ST. ATHANASIUS, PATRIARCH OF ALEXANDRIA, DOCTOR OF THE CHURCH
From his works, and the fathers and historians of that age. See his life by Hermant, who first cleared up the Intricate history of Arianism. See also Tillemont, Ceillier, Orsl, the Benedictin editors of this father, and Combefis, Bibl. Concionat. p. 500 ad 530.
A. D. 373.
ST. GREGORY NAZIANZEN begins with these words his panegyric of this glorious saint, and champion of the faith:1 “When I praise Athanasius, virtue itself is my theme: for I name every virtue as often as I mention him who was possessed of all virtues. He was the true pillar of the church. His life and conduct were the rule of bishops, and his doctrine the rule of the orthodox faith.” St. Athanasius was a native of Alexandria, and seems to have been born about the year 296. His parents, who were Christians, and remarkable for their virtue, were solicitous to procure him the best education. After he had learned grammar and the first elements of the sciences, St. Alexander, before he was raised to the episcopal chair of that city, was much delighted with the virtuous deportment of the youth, and with the pregnancy of his wit; and took upon himself the direction of his studies, brought him up under his own eye, always made him eat with him, and employed him as his secretary. Athanasius copied diligently the virtues of his master, imbibed his maxims of piety and holy zeal, was directed by him in the plan and method of his studies, and received from him the greatest assistance in the pursuit of them. By writing under so great a master, he acquired the most elegant, easy, and methodical manner of composition. Profane sciences he only learned as far as they were necessary, or might be rendered subservient to those that are most sublime and important: but from their aid he contracted an elegant, clear, methodical, and masterly style; and was qualified to enter the lists in defence of our holy faith with the greatest advantage. However, the sacred studies of religion and virtue he made the serious employment of his whole life: and how much he excelled in them, the sequel of his history and perusal of his works show. From his easy and ready manner of quoting the holy scriptures, one would imagine he knew them by heart; at least, by the assiduous meditation and study of those divine oracles he had filled his heart with the spirit of the most perfect piety, and his mind with the true science of the profound mysteries which our divine religion contains. But in his study of the sacred writings, the tradition of the church was his guide, which he diligently sought in the comments of the ancient doctors, as he testifies.2 In another place, he declares that he had learned it from holy inspired masters, and martyrs for the divinity of Christ.3 That he might neglect no branch of ecclesiastical learning, he applied himself diligently to the study of the canons of the church, in which no one was more perfectly versed: nor was he a stranger to the civil law, as appears from his works; on which account Sulpicius Severus styles him a lawyer.
Achillas, who had succeeded St. Peter in the patriarchal see of Alexandria, dying in 313, St. Alexander was promoted to that dignity.* The desire of grounding himself in the most perfect practice of virtue drew St. Athanasius into the deserts to the great St. Antony, about the year 315; with whom he made a considerable stay, serving him in quality of a disciple, and regarding it as an honor to pour water on his hands when he washed them.4 When he had by his retreat prepared himself for the ministry of the altar, he returned to the city, and having passed through the inferior degrees of ecclesiastical orders, was ordained deacon about the year 319. St. Alexander was so much taken with his prudence, virtue, and learning, that he desired to have him always with him, and governed his flock by his advice. He stood much in need of such a second, in defending his church against the calumnies and intrigues of the schismatics and heretics. The holy patriarch St. Peter had, at the intercession of the martyrs and confessors, dispensed with the rigor of the canons in behalf of certain persons who through frailty had fallen into idolatry during the persecution, and upon their repentance had received them again to communion. Meletius, bishop of Lycos in Thebais, unjustly took offence at this lenity, and on that pretence formed a schism over all Egypt against St. Peter and his successors. Arius. a Lybian by birth, and a deacon, who for seditious practices was expelled the church by his bishop St. Peter, fell in with Meletius. St. Peter was so well acquainted with his turbulent spirit, that no entreaties could move him, even when he was going to martyrdom, to receive him into the communion of the church. However, his successor, Achillas, upon his submission and repentance, not only admitted him into his communion, but also ordained him priest, and intrusted him with the church of Baucalis, one of the parishes of the city. Achillas was succeeded by St. Alexander, whose promotion Arius resented as an injury done to himself, being in his own opinion the more worthy: and some time after impudently and blasphemously asserted that Christ was not God, but a mere creature, though formed before all other created beings, (but not from eternity,) and of a nature superior in perfection to all other creatures. St. Alexander long endeavored by mildness to reclaim the heresiarch, but was compelled by his obstinacy to cut him off from the communion of the church, in a synod of all the bishops under his jurisdiction, held at Alexandria. Arius fled first into Palestine, and thence to Nicomedia, where he had already gained by letters the confidence of Eusebius, the crafty bishop of that city. In 319, St. Alexander sent an account of his proceedings against Arius in a circular letter directed to all the bishops of the church, signed by St. Athanasius and many others. In 325, he took the holy deacon with him to the council of Nice, who there distinguished himself by the extraordinary zeal and learning with which he encountered not only Arius, but also Eusebius of Nicomedia, Theognis, and Maris, the principal protectors of that heresiarch; and he had a great share in the disputations and decisions of that venerable assembly, as Theodoret, Sozomen, and St. Gregory Nazianzen testify.
Five months after this great council, St. Alexander, lying on his deathbed, by a heavenly inspiration recommended to his clergy and people the choice of Athanasius for his successor, thrice repeating his name; and when he was found to be absent, he cried out: “Athanasius, you think to escape, but you are mistaken.”5 Sozomen says he had absconded for fear of being chosen. In consequence of this recommendation, the bishops of all Egypt assembled at Alexandria, and finding the people and clergy unanimous in their choice of Athanasius for patriarch, they confirmed the election about the middle of the year 326; for St. Cyril testifies,6 that he held that chair forty six years. He seems then to have been about thirty years of age. He ordained Frumentius bishop of the Æthiopiaus, and made the visitation of the churches under his jurisdiction throughout all Egypt. The Meletians continued, after the death of their author, to hold private assemblies, ordain new bishops by their own authority, everywhere to divide the people, and to fill Egypt with factions and schisms. In vain did St. Athanasius employ all the power which his authority put into his hands, to bring them back to the unity of the church. The severity of their morals gained them a reputation among the people, and their opposition to the Catholics moved the Arians to court their friendship. Though these schismatics were in the beginning orthodox in faith, and the first and most violent opposers of Arius, yet they soon after joined his partisans in calumniating and impugning St. Athanasius; for which purpose they entered into a solemn league of iniquity together. For St. Athanasius observes,7 that as Herod and Pontius Pilate forgot their enmity to agree in persecuting Christ, so the Meletians and Arians dissembled their private animosities, to enter into a mutual confederacy and cabal against the truth: which is the spirit of all sectaries, who, though divided in every other thing, unite in persecuting the truth and opposing the church.
Arius being recalled from banishment, into which he had been sent by the emperor, St. Athanasius refused him entrance into the church, whereupon he retired to his friends in Palestine and the neighboring eastern provinces, at whose entreaty Constantine urged St. Athanasius to admit him to his communion. The intrepid patriarch answered the emperor, that the Catholic church could hold no communion with heresy that so impudently attacked the divinity of Jesus Christ.8 Eusebius of Nicomedia, and Theognis, after three years’ banishment, seeing Arius already released from his exile, wrote a letter to the emperor, which is extant in Socrates and Sozomen, artfully declaring that they all agreed in faith, that they received the word consubstantial, having now fully examined its meaning, and that they entirely gave themselves up to peace; but could not anathematize Arius, whom, by a long converse with him, and both by word and writing, they had found not to be guilty of what had been laid to his charge, and who had already met with a favorable reception from his imperial majesty. Hereupon the sentence of their banishment was reversed, and they were both permitted to return to their respective sees. This Eusebius had before ambitiously procured his translation from the see of Berytus to that of Nicomedia, which being at that time the residence of the eastern emperors, gave him a fair opportunity of ingratiating himself with the great ministers of state, and thereby of rendering himself considerable for power and interest at court. He neither wanted parts nor learning, was of a subtle and daring temper, a deep dissembler, and the most artful of men; and on these accounts a proper instrument of the devil to be the contriver of the calumnies and persecutions against our saint and the Catholic church. He was no sooner come back to Nicomedia, than he began to set his engines at work. He first wrote a civil letter to St. Athanasius, wherein he endeavored to justify Arius. But neither his own flattering words, not the emperor’s threats, which he procured, prevailing, he wrote to the Meletians that the time was now come to put their designs in execution and impeach Athanasius. It was some time before they could agree what they should lay to his charge. At length they sent three of their schismatical bishops, Isio, Eudæmon, and Callinicus, to Nicomedia, who undertook to accuse him to the emperor of having exacted linen for the use of his church, and imposed it as a tribute upon the people; also of sending a purse of gold to one Philumenus, who was plotting to usurp the empire. Athanasius being summoned to appear before Constantine, his cause was heard in his palace of Psammathia, situated in the suburbs of Nicomedia. The emperor, having examined the accusations against him, was convinced of his innocence, acquitted him of what had been alleged against him, and sent him back with a letter to the faithful of Alexandria, wherein he calls him a man of God, and a most venerable person.
Eusebius, though baffled for the present, did not despair of compassing his ends; and, in the mean time, contrived the banishment of St. Eustathius, the most zealous and holy patriarch of Antioch. And soon after, new allegations were laid against Athanasius, charging him with the murder of Arsenius, a Meletian bishop, and with other crimes. Constantine appeared shocked at the accusation of the murder, and sent an order to St. Athanasius to clear himself in a council, which was to be held at Cæsarea, in Palestine, whereof Eusebius, one of the Arian party, was bishop. The saint, disliking it, no doubt, on this account, and justly apprehensive he should not have liberty allowed him for his defence, did not appear. This his enemies represented to Constantine as the effect of pride and stubbornness; who, being exasperated by these suggestions, began to entertain an ill opinion of him, and appointed another council to assemble at Tyre, where he commanded Athanasius, at his peril, to appear. The council met there in August, 335, consisting of sixty bishops, chiefly Arians. St. Athanasius, after some delay, came thither, attended with a considerable number of bishops of his own province, and, among these, the illustrious confessors, Paphnutius and Potamon. All the chiefs of the Arian sect were present; the two Eusebiuses, Flacillus, the intruded bishop of Antioch, Theognis of Nice, Maris of Chalcedon, Narcissus of Neronias, Theodorus of Heraclea, Patrophilus of Scythopolis, Ursacius of Syngidon, Valens of Mursa, and George of Laodicea. The just exception which St. Athanasius made against such judges who had declared themselves his enemies, was tyrannically overruled, and, on his entering the council, they, instead of allowing him to take his place among them, obliged him to stand as a criminal at the bar before his judges. St. Potamon could not forbear tears upon the occasion; and, addressing himself to Eusebius of Cæsarea, who had been a prisoner with him for the faith in the late persecution, cried out: “What, Eusebius, are you sitting on the bench, and doth Athanasius stand arraigned? Who can bear this with patience? Tell me; was not you in prison with me during the persecution? As for my part, I lost an eye in it, but I see you are whole and sound. How came you to escape so well?” By which words he insinuated a suspicion of public fame, that Eusebius had been guilty of some unlawful compliance. The rest of the Egyptian bishops persisted in refusing to allow those to be judges of their patriarch, who were his professed enemies; but their remonstrances were not regarded.
The first article of accusation against the saint was, that Macarius, his deputy, had been guilty of sacrilege, in breaking the chalice of one Ischyras, a supposed priest, while he was officiating at the altar. This, which had been already proved to be mere calumny, and was further confuted by deputies sent from Tyre into Egypt to examine into the state of the affair whereby it appeared that the whole charge was groundless and malicious, and that Ischyras, who at length was reconciled to St. Athanasius, had been set on by certain bishops of the Meletian faction. He was next accused of having ravished a virgin consecrated to God: and a woman was accordingly prevailed with to own and attest the fact in open council. Whereupon Timothy, one of the saint’s clergy, turning to her, “Woman,” said he, “did I ever lodge at your house; did I ever, as you pretend, offer violence to you?” “Yes,” said she, “you are the very person I accuse;” adding, at large, the circumstances of time and place. The imposture thus plainly discovering itself, put the contrivers of it so much out of countenance, that they drove her immediately out of the assembly. St. Athanasius indeed insisted on her staying, and being obliged to declare who it was that had suborned her; but this was overruled by his enemies, alleging that they had more important crimes to charge him with, and such as it was impossible to elude by any artifices whatsoever. They proceeded next to the affair of Arsenius, an old Meletian bishop, whom they accused St. Athanasius of having murdered. To support this charge, they produced in court a dried and, supposed to be the hand of Arsenius, which, as they alleged, the patriarch had ordered to be cut off, to be employed in magical operations. The truth was: Arsenius, styled by his party bishop of Hypsele, had fallen into some irregularity, and had absconded. St. Athanasius had first procured certificates from many persons that he was still living; and prevailed with him afterwards, through the interest of friends, to come privately to Tyre, to serve Athanasius on this occasion. The saint therefore asked if any of the bishops present knew Arsenius: several answering, they did; he then made him appear before the whole assembly with both his hands. Thus was the wicked purpose of his adversaries defeated, no less to the pleasure and satisfaction of the innocent, than to the shame and confusion of the guilty. Arsenius soon after made his peace with St. Athanasius, and with the Catholic church; as did also John, the most famous of the Meletian bishops. The Arians called the saint a magician, and one that imposed upon their senses by the black art; and would have torn him to pieces had not the imperial governor interposed and rescued him out of their hands, who for further security sent him on board a ship that sailed the same night. Having thus escaped their fury, he went soon after for Constantinople. All these particulars are related by St. Athanasius, in his apology: also by Socrates, Sozomen, and Theodoret. Though the saint had been convicted of no crime, the Arian bishops pronounced against him a sentence of deposition, forbidding him to reside at Alexandria, lest his presence should excite new disorders there, repeating in their sentence the calumnies which had been so fully refuted.
Constantine, who had refused to see or give audience to our saint on his arrival at Constantinople, whom he looked upon as justly condemned by a council, sent an order to the bishops of Tyre to adjourn to Jerusalem, for the dedication of the church of the holy sepulchre, which he had caused to be built there. Arius came thither at this time to the council, with a letter from the emperor, and a profession of faith which he had presented to him, and which is extant in Socrates. In it the subtle heretic professes his belief in Christ, “as begotten before all worlds: God the Word, by whom all things were made, &c.” But neither the word consubstantial, nor any thing equivalent to it, was there. The heresiarch had assured the emperor that he received the council of Nict, who was thus imposed upon by his hypocrisy; but he ordered the bishops to examine his profession of faith. The Eusebians readily embraced the opportunity which they had long waited for, declared Arius orthodox, and admitted him to the communion. St. Athanasius, in the mean time, having requested of the emperor, who had refused him audience, that his pretended judges might be obliged to confront him, and that he might be allowed the liberty to exhibit his complaints against them, Constantine sent them an order to come to Constantinople to give an account of their transactions at Tyre. But only six, and these the most artful of the number, obeyed the summons, namely, Eusebius, Theognis, Maris, Patrophilus, Ursacius, and Valens. These agreed to attack St. Athanasius with a fresh accusation, as they did, charging him with having threatened to hinder the yearly transportation of corn from Alexandria to Constantinople. This accusation, though protested against by the saint as absolutely false and to the last degree improbable, was nevertheless believed by Constantine, who expressed his resentment at it, and banished him, in consequence, to Triers, then the chief city of the Belgic Gaul.
The holy man arrived there in the beginning of the year 336, and was received with the greatest respect by St. Maximinus, bishop of the place, and by Constantine the younger, who commanded there for his father. St. Antony and the people of Alexandria wrote to the emperor in favor of their pastor: but he answered that he could not despise the judgment of a council.* The saint had the satisfaction to be informed that his church at Alexandria constantly refused to admit Arius. The year after, on Whitsunday, the 12th of May, Constantine departed this life, being sixty-three years and almost three months old, while he yet wore the Neophyte’s white garment after his baptism. His historian testifies with what ardor the people offered up their prayers to God for his soul.† He was buried in the porch of the church of the twelve apostles, which he had founded in Constantinople for the burying-place of the emperors and patriarchs, though he had built that of St. Irene for the great church or the cathedral. He would be buried in that holy place, according to Eusebius, “that he might deserve to enjoy the benefit of the mystical sacrifice, and the communion of devout prayers.”9 Constantine’s three sons divided the empire, as their father’s will directed. Constantine, the eldest, had Britain, Spain, Gaul, and all that lies on this side the Alps: Constantius, the second son, Thrace, Asia, Egypt, and the East: Constans, the youngest, had Italy, Africa, Greece, and Illyricum. Constantine, the younger, restored St. Athanasius to his see, sending with him a letter filled with high commendations of the holy prelate, and expressions of great respect for his sanctity, and of indignation against his adversaries. The saint passed through Syria, and was received by his flock with a joy and pomp equal to the triumph of an emperor.
The city of Alexandria was situate within the jurisdiction of Constantius, whom the Arians had gained over to their party without much difficulty. These heretics accused St. Athanasius afresh to the three emperors for raising tumults and seditions upon his return, for committing violences and murder, and selling, for his own private use, the corn which Constantine had destined for the support of widows and ecclesiastics in those countries where corn did not grow; but the attestations of the bishops who had received it in Lybia justified him, and covered his accusers with confusion. Constantine and Constans sent away their deputies with disgrace: but Constantius being met at Antioch by Eusebius of Nicomedia, and others of his party, was easily persuaded into the belief of this last head of the accusation, and prevailed upon to grant them leave to choose a new bishop of Alexandria. They lost no time, but, assembling at Antioch, named one Pistus to that see, an Egyptian priest of their sect, who, together with the bishop that ordained him, had been condemned by St. Alexander and by the council of Nice: but pope Julius rejected his communion, and all other Catholic churches pronounced anathemas against him; nor was he ever able to get possession of the patriarchal chair. St. Athanasius called a council of about a hundred bishops, at Alexandria, to defend the Catholic faith: after which he repaired to Rome to pope Julius, to whom this council sent letters and deputies. Here the pope acquitted him in a council of fifty bishops, held in 341, and confirmed him in his see: but he was obliged to continue at Rome three years, during which the Arians carried on every thing by violence in the East. The same year a council met at Antioch to the dedication of the great church, called the Golden church, and framed twenty-five canons of discipline. After the departure of the orthodox prelates, the Arians framed a canon levelled against St. Athanasius, that if a bishop, who had been deposed in a council, whether justly or unjustly, should return to his church without the authority of a greater council than that which had deposed him, he should never hope to be re-established, nor have his cause admitted to a hearing. They then named Gregory, a Cappadocian, and placed him by force of arms in the see of Alexandria, in 341. The emperor Constans, in 345, invited St. Athanasius to Milan; and, by earnest letters, obliged his brother Constantius to join with him in assembling a general council of the East and West at Sardica, in Illyricum. It met in May, 347, and consisted of three hundred bishops of the West, and seventy-six of the East, according to Socrates and Sozomen; but, according to St. Athanasius, only of one hundred and seventy, besides the Eusebians; which agrees nearly with Theodoret, who reckons them in all two hundred and fifty. They were collected out of thirty-five provinces, besides the Orientals. This is reputed a general council, and is proved such by Natalis Alexander, though commonly looked upon only as an appendix to that of Nice. St. Athanasius, Marcellus of Ancyra, and Asclepas of Gaza, were acquitted. They and some others out of the eastern empire were present. But the Arian Orientals made a body apart, being fourscore in number, who having formed several assemblies in certain places by the way, on their arrival at Sardica, refused, as they had agreed before they came, to join the other prelates; alleging the presence of Athanasius, and other such frivolous pretences; and at length, upon an intimation of the threats of the synod, if they did not appear, and if the Eusebians did not justify themselves of the matters said to their charge, they all fled by night, and held a pretended council at Philippopolis, as St. Hilary, in his fragments, and Socrates testify. Dr. Cave alleges that they dated their acts a Sardica: but this they did only to usurp the venerable name of that synod for at the same time they quote the synodal epistle of the prelates who remained at Sardica, before the date of which epistle all historians testify that they had left that city. The true council excommunicated the chiefs of the Eusebians, with Gregory the Cappadocian, forbidding all Catholic bishops to hold communication with them.* This council sent two deputies to Constantius to press the execution of its decrees. The emperor Constans wrote to him also, both before and after the council, to acquaint him, that, unless he restored Athanasius to his see, and punished his calumniators, he would do it by force of arms. Gregory the Cappadocian, who had, with the Arian governors, exercised a most bloody persecution against the Catholics, and among others had caused to be beaten to death the holy confessor St. Potamon, dying four months after the council of Sardica, facilitated our saint’s return to Alexandria, and deprived the emperor of all pretexts for hindering or delaying it. Constantius had also upon his hands an unsuccessful war against the Persians, and dreaded the threats of a civil war from his brother. Therefore he wrote thrice to the holy prelate, entreating him to hasten his return to Alexandria. St. Athanasius, at the request of Constans, went first to him, then residing in Gaul, and probably at Milan, and thence to Rome, to take leave of pope Julius and his church. He took Antioch on his way home, where he found Constantius, who treated him with great courtesy, and only desired that he would allow the Arians one church in Alexandria. The saint answered, that he hoped, that, in that case, the same favor might be granted to the Catholics at Antioch, who adhered to Eustathius: but this not being relished by the Arians, Constantius insisted no longer on that point, but recommended Athanasius in very strong terms to his governors in Egypt. In the mean time, the zealous and pious emperor Constans was treacherously slain by Magnentius, in Gaul, in January, 350. Nevertheless, Constantius restored Athanasius, who immediately assembled a council at Alexandria, and confirmed the decrees of that of Sardica. St. Maximus did the same in a numerous synod at Jerusalem. Many Arian bishops on this occasion retracted their calumnies against the holy man, and also their heresy, among whom were Ursacius and Valens: but they soon returned to the vomit.
Magnentius usurped the empire in Italy, Gaul, and Africa, and Vetrannio in Pannonia. Constantius marched into the West against them. He made himself master of Vetrannio’s person by a stratagem, and his army defeated Magnentius, near Mursa, in Pannonia, in 351, and that tyrant fell soon after, by his own sword. While Constantius resided at Sirmium, in 351, a council was held in that city, consisting chiefly of oriental bishops, most of them Arians. Photinus, bishop of that see, who renewed the heresy of Sabellius, and affirmed Christ to be no more than a mere man, having been already condemned by two councils at Milan, was here excommunicated, deposed, and banished by the emperor. The profession of faith drawn up in this synod, is commonly esteemed orthodox, and called the first confession of Sirmium. The Arians had never ceased to prepossess the credulous emperor against Athanasius, whose active zeal was their terror; and that prince was no sooner at liberty, by seeing the whole empire in his own hands, than he began again to persecute him. He procured him to be condemned by certain Arian bishops, at Arles, in 353, and again at Milan, in 355, where he declared himself his accuser, and banished the Catholic bishops who refused to subscribe his condemnation, as SS. Eusebius of Vercelli, Dionysins of Milan. Paulinus of Triers, &c. He sent a chamberlain to obtain of pope Liberius the confirmation of this unjust sentence: but he rejected the proposal with indignation, though enforced with presents and threats. Liberius not only refused the presents which were brought him, but, when the messenger sought means to deposite them, as an offering in St. Peter’s church, unknown to the pope, he threw them out of doors. Constantius hereupon sent for him under a strict guard to Milan, where, in a conference, recorded by Theodoret, he boldly told Constantius that Athanasius had been acquitted at Sardica, and his enemies proved calumniators and impostors, and that it was unjust to condemn a person who could not be legally convicted of any crime: the emperor was reduced to silence on every article; but being the more out of patience, ordered him, unless he complied within three days, to go into banishment to Berœa, in Thrace. He sent him, indeed, five hundred pieces of gold to bear his charges, but Liberius refused them, saying, he might bestow them on his flatterers: as he did also a like present from the empress, bidding the messenger learn to believe in Christ, and not to persecute the church of God. After the three days were expired, he departed into exile, in 356. Constantius, going to Rome to celebrate the twentieth year of his reign, in 357, the ladies joined in a petition to him that he would restore Liberius, who had been then two years in banishment. He assented, upon condition that he should comply with the bishops then at court. About this time Liberius began to sink under the hardships of his exile, and his resolution was shaken by the continual solicitations of Demophilus, the Arian bishop of Berœa, and of Fortunatian, the temporizing bishop of Aquileia. He was so far softened by listening to flatteries and suggestions, to which he ought to have stopped his ears with horror, that he yielded to the snare laid for him, to the great scandal of the church. He subscribed the condemnation of St. Athanasius, and a confession, or creed, which had been framed by the Arians at Sirmium, though their heresy was not expressed in it; and he wrote to the Arian bishops of the East, that he had received the true Catholic faith which many bishops had approved at Sirmium.* The fall of so great a prelate, and so illustrious a confessor, is a terrifying example of human weakness, which no one can call to mind without trembling for himself. St. Peter fell by a presumptuous confidence in his own strength and resolution; that we may learn that every one stands only by humility. Liberius, however, speedily imitated the repentance of the prince of the apostles. And he no sooner had recovered his see, than he again loudly declared himself the patron of justice and truth: and, when the council of Rimini was betrayed into a prevarication, which was construed in favor of Arianism, Liberius vigorously opposed the danger, and by his strenuous active zeal, averted the desolation with which it threatened many churches, as Theodoret testifies.10
Constantius, not content to have banished the bishops who favored Athanasius, also threatened and punished all the officers and magistrates who refused to join in communion with the Arians. While his presence in the West filled it with confusion and acts of tyranny, St. Athanasius was at Alexandria, offering up to God most fervent prayers for the defence of the faith. Constantius next turned all his rage against him and against the city of Alexandria, sending orders to Syrianus, the duke, that is, general of the troops of Egypt, to persecute the archbishop and his clergy. He likewise dispatched two notaries to see his orders executed. They endeavored to oblige the saint to leave the city. He answered, that he had returned to his see, and had resided there till that time by the emperor’s express order, and therefore could not leave it without a command of equal authority, (which they owned was not in their power to produce,) or unless Syrianus, the duke, or Maximus, the prefect or governor, would give him such an order in writing, which neither of them would do. Syrianus, convinced of the justice of his plea, promised to give neither him nor the public assemblies of his people any further disturbance, without express injunction from the emperor to that effect. Twenty-three days after this solemn promise, confirmed by oath, the faithful were assembled at the church of St. Theonas, where they passed the night in prayer, on account of a festival to be celebrated the next day. Syrianus, conducted by the Arians, surrounded the church at midnight, with above five hundred soldiers, who having forced open the doors, committed the greatest disorders. The patriarch, however, kept his chair; and, being determined not to desert his flock in their distress, ordered a deacon to sing the 136th psalm, and the people to repeat alternately: For his mercy endureth forever. After this, he directed them to depart and make the best of their way to their own houses, protesting that he would be the last that left that place. Accordingly, when the greatest part of the people were gone out, and the rest were following, the clergy and monks that were left forced the patriarch out along with them; whom (though almost stifled to death) they conveyed safe through the guards and secured him out of their reach. Numbers on this occasion were trampled to death by the soldiers, or slain by their darts. This relation is given by the saint in his apology for his flight, and in his History of the Arians, addressed to the monks. The next step of the Arians was to fix a trusty man of their party in this important see: and the person they pitched upon was one George, who had been victualler to the army, one of the most brutish and cruel of men: who was accordingly placed in the patriarchal chair. His roughness and savage temper made him seem the fittest instrument to oppress the Catholics, and he renewed all the scenes of bloodshed and violence of which Gregory had set the example, as Theodoret relates. Our holy bishop hereupon retired into the deserts of Egypt: but was not permitted to enjoy long the conversation of the devout inhabitants of those parts, who, according to the expression of St. Gregory Nazianzen, lived only to God. His enemies having set a price upon his head, the wildernesses were ransacked by soldiers in quest of him, and the monks persecuted, who were determined rather to sufler death than to discover where he lay concealed The saint, apprehensive of their suffering on his account, left them, and retired to a more remote and solitary place, where he had scarce air to breathe in, and saw none but the person that supplied him with necessaries and brought him his letters, though not without great danger and difficulty.*
Constantius died on the 3d of November, in 361; a prince whose memory will be eternally infamous for his heresy, and persecution of the church, his dissimulation, levity, and inconstancy, his weakness of mind, and the treacherous murder of all his uncles. The year following, George, the Arian usurper of the see of Alexandria, was massacred by the pagans for his cruelty. Thus was Athanasius delivered from all his chief enemies. Julian the Apostate, on coming to the empire, granted all the bishops who had been banished by Constantius the liberty to return to their respective churches; not out of any good-will he bore them, but with a view, as his own historian writes, to increase their divisions by this license, and lessen his fears for their uniting against him: also to reflect an odium on the memory and proceedings of his predecessor. Most of the orthodox bishops took their advantage of this permission; and the usurper of the see of Alexandria being massacred by the pagans in July, 362, our saint returned to his flock in August, after an absence of above six years. His entrance was a kind of triumph of the Catholic faith over its enemies, and the citizens hereupon drove the Arians out of all the churches.
In 359, the council of Rimini had the weakness so far to yield to the artifices of the Arians, as to omit in the creed the word consubstantial. The prelates were afterwards surprised to see the triumph of the Arians on that account, and were struck with remorse for their unwary condescension. Their fall was owing, not to any error in faith, but to a want of courage and insight into the artifices of the Arians. Nevertheless, Lucifer of Cagliari,† and some other bishops, pretended, by a Pharisaical pride, that the lapsed, notwithstanding their repentance, could no longer be admitted by the church to communion in the rank of bishops or priests. St. Athanasius, on the contrary, being filled with the spirit of tenderness which our divine Redeemer exercised and recommended to be shown towards sincere penitents, condemned this excessive severity: and in 362, assembled a council at Alexandria; at which assisted St. Eusebius of Vercelli, in his return from his banishment in Thebais, St. Asterius of Petra, &c. This synod condemned those who denied the divinity of the Holy Ghost, and decreed that the authors of the Arian heresy should be deposed, and upon their repentance received only to the lay-communion; but that those prelates who had fallen into it only by compulsion, and for a short time, should, upon their repentance, retain their sees. This decision was adopted in Macedonia, Achaia, Spain, Gaul, &c., and approved at Rome.11 For we learn from St. Hilary, that Liberius, who died in 366, had established this disciple in Italy, and we have his letter to the Catholic bishops of that country, in which he approves what had been regulated in this regard in Achaia and Egypt, and exhorts them to exert their zeal against the authors of their fault, in proportion to the grief they felt for having committed it.12
Theodoret says that the priests of the idols complained to Julian, that, if Athanasius was suffered to remain in Alexandria, there would not remain one adorer of the gods in that city. Julian, having received this advice, answered their complaint, telling them, that, though he had allowed the Galileans (his name of derision for Christians) to return to their own country, he had not given them leave to enter on the possession of their churches. And that Athanasius, in particular, who had been banished by the orders of several emperors, ought not to have done this: he therefore ordered him immediately to leave the city on the receipt of his letter, under the penalty of a severer punishment. He even dispatched a messenger to kill him. The saint comforted his flock, and having recommended them to the ablest of his friends, with an assurance that this storm would soon blow over, embarked in a boat on the river for Thebais. He who had orders to kill him, hearing that he was fled, sailed after him with great expedition. The saint having timely notice sent him of it, was advised by those that accompanied him to turn aside into the deserts that bordered on the Nile. But St. Athanasius ordered them to tack about, and fall down the river towards Alexandria; “to show,” said he, “that our protector is more powerful than our persecutor.” Meeting the pursuivant, he asked them whether they had seen Athanasius as they came down the river, and was answered that he was not far off, and that if they made haste, they would quickly come up with him. Upon this the assassin continued the pursuit, while St. Athanasius got safe and unsuspected to Alexandria, where he lay hid for some time. But upon a fresh order coming from Julian for his death, he withdrew into the deserts of Thebais, going from place to place to avoid falling into the hands of his enemy. St. Theodorus, of Tabenna, being come to visit him, while at Antinoë, with St. Pammon, put an end to his apprehensions on this score, by assuring him, on a revelation God had favored him with, that Julian had just then expired in Persia, where he was killed on the 27th of June, in 363. The holy hermit acquainted him also that the reign of his Christian successor would be very short. This was Jovian, who being chosen emperor, refused to accept that dignity till the army had declared for the Christian religion He was no sooner placed upon the throne but he wrote to St. Athanasius cancelling the sentence of his banishment, and praying him to resume the government of his church, adding high commendations of his virtue and unshaken constancy. St. Athanasius waited not for the emperor’s orders to quit his retreat, but on being apprized, as before related, of the death of his persecutor, appeared on a sudden, and resumed his usual functions in the midst of his people, who were joyfully surprised at the sight of him. The emperor, well knowing that he was the chief person that had stood up in defence of the Christian faith, besought him, by a second letter, to send him a full account in writing of its doctrines, and some rules for his conduct and behavior in what regarded the affairs of the church. St. Athanasius called a synod of learned bishops, and returned an answer in their name; recommending, that he should hold inviolable the doctrine explained in the council of Nice, this being the faith of the apostles, which had been preached in all ages, and was generally professed throughout the whole Christian world, “some few excepted,” says he, “who embrace the opinions of Arius.” The Arians attempted in vain to alter his favorable dispositions towards the saint by renewing their old calumnies. Not satisfied with his instructions by letters, he desired to see him; and the holy bishop was received by him at Antioch with all possible tokens of affection and esteem; but after giving him holy advice, he hastened back to Alexandria. The good emperor Jovian reigned only eight months, dying on the 17th of February, in 364. Valentinian, his successor, chose to reside in the West, and making his brother Valens partner in the empire, assigned to him the East. Valens was inclined to Arianism, and openly declared in favor of it, in 367, when he received baptism from the hands of Eudoxius, bishop of the Arians, at Constantinople. The same year he published an edict for the banishment of all those bishops who had been deprived of their sees by Constantius. Theodoret says this was the fifth time that St. Athanasius had been driven from his church. He had been employed in visiting the churches, monasteries, and deserts of Egypt. Upon the news of this new tempest, the people of Alexandria rose in tumults, demanding of the governor of the province that they might be allowed to enjoy their bishop, and he promised to write to the emperor. Saint Athanasius, seeing the sedition appeased, stole privately out of the town, and hid himself in the country in the vault in which his father was interred, where he lay four months, according to Sozomen. The very night after he withdrew, the governor and the general of the troops took possession of the church in which he usually performed his functions; but were not able to find him. As soon as his departure was known, the city was filled with lamentation, the people vehemently calling on the governor for the return of their pastor. The fear of a sedition moved Valens at length to grant them that satisfaction, and to write to Alexandria that he might abide there in peace, in the free possession of the churches. In 369, the holy patriarch convened at Alexandria a council of ninety bishops, in whose name he wrote to the bishops of Africa to beware of any surprise from those who were for preferring the decrees of the council of Rimini to those of Nice.
The continued scenes of perfidy, dissimulation, and malice which the history of Arianism exhibits to our view, amaze and fill us with horror. Such superlative impiety and hypocrisy would have seemed incredible, had not the facts been attested by St. Athanasius himself, and by all the historians of that age. They were likewise of so public a nature, having been performed before the eyes of the whole world, or proved by ocular demonstration in the Arians’ own synods, that St. Athanasius could never have inserted them in his apology, addressed to these very persons and to the whole world, could any circumstances have been disproved, or even called in question. By such base arts and crimes did the Arian blasphemy spread itself, like a spark of fire set to a train of gunpowder; and, being supported by the whole power of a crafty and proud emperor, seemed to threaten destruction to the church of Christ, had it not been built on foundations which, according to the promises of Him who laid them, all the power of hell shall never be able to shake. During more than three hundred years it had stood the most violent assaults of the most cruel and powerful persecutors, who had bent the whole power of the empire to extirpate, if it had been possible, the Christian name. But the more it was depressed the more it grew and flourished, and the blood of martyrs was a seed which pushed forth and multiplied with such a wonderful increase, as to extend its shoots into every part of the then known world, and to fill every province and every rank of men in the Roman empire. By the conversion of the emperors themselves, it appeared triumphant over all the efforts of hell. But the implacable enemy of man’s salvation did not desist in his attacks. His restless envy and malice grew more outrageous by his defeats; and shifting his ground, he stirred up his instruments within the bowels of the church itself, and excited against it a storm, in which hell seemed to vomit out all its poison, and unite all the efforts of its malice. But these vain struggles again terminated in the most glorious triumph of the church. In those perilous times, God raised up many holy pastors, whom he animated with his spirit, and strengthened in the defence of his truth. Among these St. Athanasius was the most illustrious champion. By his undaunted courage, and unparalleled greatness of soul under the most violent persecutions, he merited a crown equal to that of the most glorious martyrs: by his erudition, eloquence, and writings he holds an illustrious place among the principal doctors of the church; and by the example of his virtue, by which he rivalled the most renowned anchorets of the deserts, and the most holy confessors, he stemmed the torrent of scandal and iniquity which threatened to bear down all before it.
St. Gregory Nazianzen gives the following portrait of his virtues in private life. “He was most humble and lowly in mind, as his virtue was most sublime and inimitable. He was most courteous to all, and every one had easy access to him; he was meek, gentle, compassionate, amiable in his discourse, but much more so in his life; of an angelical disposition; mild in his reproofs, and instructive in his commendations; in both which he observed such even measures, that his reproof spoke the kindness of a father, and his commendation the authority of a master; and neither was his indulgence over tender, nor his severity harsh. His life supplied the place of sermons, and his sermons prevented correction. In him all ranks might find enough to admire, and enough to imitate; one might commend his unwearied austerity in fasting and prayer; another his perseverance in watchings and the divine praises; a third his admirable care of the poor; a fourth his courage in checking the injustice of the rich, or his condescension to the humble.” Thus St. Gregory Nazianzen,13 who says he was a loadstone to dissenters, drawing them to his opinion, unless hardened in malice; and always at least raising in them a secret reverence and veneration for his person; but that he was an adamant to his persecutors; no more capable of impressions against justice, than a rock of marble is of yielding to any slight touch. After innumerable combats, and as many great victories, this glorious saint, having governed the church of Alexandria forty-six years, was called to a life exempt from labor and suffering, on the 2d of May, on a Thursday, according to the Oriental Chronicle of the Copthes, in the year 373, as is clear from the same author, St. Proterius, and St. Jerom; not in 371, as Socrates mistakes.* St. Gregory Nazianzen thus describes his death: “He ended his life in a holy old age, and went to keep company with his fathers, the patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and martyrs, who had fought valiantly for the truth, as he had done: and to comprise his epitaph in few words, he departed this life with far greater honor and glory than what he had received in his more than triumphant entries into Alexandria, when he returned from his banishments: so much was his death lamented by all good men; and the immortal glory of his name remained imprinted in their hearts.” He desires the saint “to look down upon him from heaven, to favor and assist him in the government of his flock, and to preserve it in the true faith: and if, for the sins of the world, heretics were to prevail against it, to deliver him from these evils and to bring him, by his intercession, to enjoy God in his company.”
The humility, modesty, and charity of this great saint; his invincible meekness towards his enemies, who were the most implacable and basest of men, and the heroic fortitude, patience, and zeal, by which he triumphed over the persecutions of almost the whole world confederated against him, and of four emperors, Constantine, Constantius, Julian, and Valens, three of whom employed wiles, stratagems, hypocrisy, and sometimes open force to destroy him: these, I say, and all other eminent virtues, have rendered his name venerable in the church to the latest ages, which he ceases not to instruct and edify by his writings.†
These and other virtues, Saint Athanasius learned and practised in the most heroic degree, by studying them devoutly and assiduously in the sacred life, and in the divine heart of Jesus. And in the simplicity of faith he adored the incomprehensible greatness of the Divinity, his infinite wisdom, justice, and sanctity, with the boundless treasures of his love and mercy, in the mystery of his adorable Incarnation. If we have a holy ambition to improve ourselves in this saving knowledge, in this most sublime and truly divine science, which will not only enlighten our understanding, but also reform all the affections of our hearts, and be in us a source of unspeakable peace, joy, love, light, and happiness, we must study in the same school. We must become zealous lovers and adorers of our most amiable Redeemer; we must meditate daily on his admirable life, penetrating into the unfathomed abyss of his love, and his perfect sentiments of humility, meekness, and every virtue in all his actions, and join our homages with those which he paid in his divine heart, and still continues to offer to his Father: we must sacrifice to him our affections in transports of joy and fervor, adoring, praising, loving, and thanking him, and must continually beg his mercy and grace, that we may be replenished with his spirit of humility and every virtue; and, above all, that his love may take absolute possession of our hearts, and of all our faculties and powers. “The Son of God,” says St. Athanasius, “took upon him our poverty and miseries, that he might impart to us a share of his riches. His sufferings will render us one day impassible, and his death immortal. His tears will be our joy, his burial our resurrection, and his baptism is our sanctification, according to what he says in his gospel: For them I sanctify myself, that they also may be made holy in fruits.”
Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary, that he hold the Catholic Faith. Which faith, except everyone do keep entire and inviolate, without doubt he will perish everlastingly.
Now the Catholic Faith is this; that we worship One God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity. Neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the substance.
For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all One; the Glory equal, the Majesty co-eternal.
Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Ghost. The Father uncreate, the Son uncreate, the Holy Ghost uncreate. The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible. The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Ghost eternal. And yet they are not three eternals, but one eternal. As also they are not three uncreates, nor three incomprehensibles; but one uncreate, and one incomprehensible. In like manner the Father is almighty, the Son almighty, and the Holy Ghost almighty. And yet not three almighties, but one almighty.
So the Father is God, the Son God, and the Holy Ghost God. And yet they are not three Gods, but one God. So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son is Lord, and the Holy Ghost is Lord. And yet they are not three Lords, but one Lord. For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity to acknowledge every Person by Himself to be God and Lord; so we are forbidden by the Catholic religion, to say there are three Gods, or three Lords.
The Father is made of none, neither created, nor begotten. The Son is from the Father alone, not made, nor created, but begotten. The Holy Ghost is from the Father and the Son, not made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding. So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Ghost, not three Holy Ghosts. And in this Trinity, there is nothing before or after, nothing greater or less; but the whole three Persons are co-eternal together and co-equal.
So that in all things, as is aforesaid, the Unity is to be worshipped in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity. He, therefore, that will be saved, must thus think of the Trinity.
Furthermore, it is necessary to everlasting salvation, that he also believe rightly the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. Now the right faith is, that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is both God and Man.
He is God of the substance of the Father, begotten before the world; and He is man of the substance of His mother, born in the world; Perfect God and perfect man; of reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting. Equal to the Father according to His Godhead; and less than the Father according to His Manhood.
Who, although He be both God and Man, yet He is not two, but one Christ; One, not by the conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by the taking of the Manhood unto God; One altogether, not by confusion of substance, but by unity of Person. For as the reasonable soul and the flesh is one man, so God and Man is one Christ.
Who suffered for our salvation, descended into hell, rose again the third day from the dead. He ascended into heaven; He sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from whence He shall come to judge the living and the dead. At whose coming all men shall rise again with their bodies, and shall give an account of their own works. And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting; and they that have done evil, into everlasting fire.
This is the Catholic faith, which except a man believe faithfully and steadfastly, he cannot be be saved.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost. Amen.
by Fr. Francis Xavier Weninger, 1877
St. Athanasius, the great Doctor of the Church, and intrepid defender of the Catholic faith, was born. at Alexandria, the Capital of Egypt, in the year of our Lord 294. His parents, who belonged to the nobility, were also God-fearing people, and Athanasius was gifted by the Almighty with such great talents, that when still very young in years, he had already made unusual progress in sacred as well as profane science. He was, however, not less assiduous in the practice of virtue and piety than he was in his studies. Desirous of leading a holy life he went to the hermit Anthony, and remained two years under him. He would probably never have left him, had not Alexander, the Patriarch of Alexandria, recalled him to the city, that he might aid him against the heretics, which he faithfully did. The Patriarch made St. Athanasius his companion to the celebrated Council of Nice, where, although he was at that time only deacon, he refuted the Arian heresy so thoroughly, that all present admired his skill and erudition. This, however, drew upon him the hatred of the Arians to such a degree, that until his death they regarded him as their worst enemy, and persecuted him in all possible ways. Shortly before the death of St. Alexander he left the city secretly, fearing that he might be chosen as his successor. The Patriarch, informed of this, said with prophetic inspiration: “Athanasius, Athanasius, you think to save yourself by flight; but it will not release you from the Patriarchal Chair.” After the death of St. Alexander, neither the clergy nor the people would have any other patriarch than Athanasius. For six months they searched everywhere for him, and at length, when he was found, he yielded with many tears to the general wish. Experience showed that his election as Patriarch was really ordained by God for the welfare of the faithful. He proved himself a watchful shepherd over his flock, as well as a kind father to the poor. There was hardly a place in his large diocese which he did not visit yearly, and everywhere he frequently preached. In his own life he was very austere and kept a rigorous fast.
The Arians endeavored, at first, to prevent him from being raised to the dignity of Patriarch, and, not succeeding in this, they tried to make him hateful to the people, as well as to the Emperor, by the most horrible calumnies. The Emperor ordered Athanasius to defend himself against these accusations in a Council which was held at Tyre. The greater part of the Bishops who were present at this Council were followers of Arius, and hence, bitter enemies of the Saint, nevertheless he appeared before them. The first witness against him was a disreputable woman, whose evidence had been bought with money. She, without even knowing the Saint by sight, said that he had taken lodgings in her house, and had done violence to her. Timotheus, a priest, who was on the side of Athanasius, pretended to be the Patriarch, and addressing the wicked woman, said, “What! have I taken lodgings at your house? Have I forced you to so gross a sin?” “Yes;” answered she; “you have done this,” and confirmed her words with an oath. The whole assemblage, although mostly against the Saint, were obliged to acknowledge the falsity of the accusations and the innocence of Athanasius.
The Arians, finding that this conspiracy did not succeed, soon found something else wherewith to charge him. They had some time previously spread abroad the rumor that Athanasius had killed a certain bishop, named Arsenius, and that he used the right hand of the dead man to practise witchcraft. They even showed a hand in a box, maintaining that it was the hand of Arsenius. The bishop himself, who was still alive, they kept hidden that the falsity of their accusation might not be discovered. But God brought it to pass that Arsenius, escaped from imprisonment and arrived at the house of St. Athanasius just as the latter was summoned before the Council. At the moment when he was accused of the murder of the bishop, he had Arsenius brought before the assemblage, and pointing to the two hands of the bishop, again overwhelmed his enemies with shame and confusion. The latter, becoming more and more enraged, prevailed at length upon the otherwise pious Emperor Constantine to banish the Saint to Trieste. After the Emperor’s death, Constantine, his successor, recalled Athanasius, and sent him with a letter of safe conduct to his See. The Catholics received their holy Patriarch with great joy, which, however, did not last long, as the Arians had chosen a bishop of their own sect, who drove Athanasius, with arms in hand, out of the city.
Proceeding to Rome he sought and found assistance from the Pope, who, after having tried the Saint in a special Council and found him innocent of the accusations against him, requested the Emperor to restore him again in his See. The request was granted, but the Arian heretics became so infuriated, that they once more drove St. Athanasius away. He then lived for five years concealed in a cistern, where his food was brought to him,by an intimate friend. At the commencement of the reign of the Emperor Julian, he returned to his flock for the third time. Hearing, however, that the Emperor, at the instigation of the heretics, had issued an order to take his life, he scarcely escaped, with some friends, on a vessel; but soon retracing his steps, he returned to the city, where he remained concealed until the Emperor’s death. During the reign of the pious Emperor, Jovian, he appeared again in public and ruled his church with great zeal. After the death of Jovian, Valens, a protector of the Arians, came to the throne, when the latter, as a first favor, requested the Emperor to banish Athanasius from his See. He willingly acceded to their wish, but before the order could be executed, Athanasius had concealed himself in the tomb of his father. The Christians at Alexandria were at length unwilling to suffer any longer the absence of their shepherd, and began publicly to make complaints. The Emperor, fearing an insurrection, gave orders to search for Athanasius, and in future to leave him unmolested in his Church. The orders were carried out, and the holy patriarch, who had suffered so many persecutions, administered the affairs of his Episcopate peacefully until his death.
St. Athanasius was in all his dangers and persecutions magnanimous and of undisturbed mind. When he saved himself by flight, or concealed himself from his enemies, it was in order to be able longer to assist the Catholics and to protect them against the heretics. Those who pitied him in his exile or other adversities he comforted with the words: “This storm will soon pass over.” But when they represented to him the displeasures of the Arian Emperors, which he drew upon himself by his zeal for the true faith, he always undauntedly replied: “I fear God only, not men.”
The Roman Martyrology says of him as follows: “At Alexandria, the feast of St. Athanasius, bishop of the same city, who was great in learning and holiness, but whom the whole world seems to have conspired to persecute. He nevertheless bravely defended the Catholic faith from the reign of Constantine to that of Valens, against the Emperors, governors, and numberless Arian bishops, from all of whom he suffered many persecutions, and was driven about from place to place. At last he was permitted to return to his Church, from which he was called to God in the reign of the Emperors Valentinian and Valens, after having been priest during 46 years, and after having valiantly fought many battles and earned many crowns of patience.”
There exists at this day a creed which bears the name of St. Athanasius. It commences thus: “Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he believe the Catholic faith. Whosoever keep it not wholly and inviolably, without doubt, shall be eternally lost.”
Many, however, say that this creed was not written by Athanasius, but that others composed it out of the Saint’s works. Nevertheless, it has been received by many non-Catholics, even by Luther himself, as a true creed. The word “Catholic,” Luther changed into ” Christian,” which, however, is a wicked forgery. But it is easy to perceive why this was done. It was too clear in the above words that the Catholic faith is necessary for salvation and that those who have died out of its pale are lost. This sentence of Athanasius, or of some other ancient teacher, did not suit Luther and he therefore substituted the word ” Christian” for “Catholic;” as if anybody could be really a Christian without being a Catholic. He had before made a similar interpolation in the ninth article of the Apostles’ creed; indeed the whole heresy is a tissue of corruption and falsehood.
I. “This storm will soon pass over.” With these words St. Athanasius comforted himself as well as others. The persecutions he compared to a storm which, although sometimes violent and fierce, does not last long. It is generally followed by cheerful weather and bright sunshine which last longer than the storm. The Saint had often had personal experience .of this. At last, however, the persecutions ceased, and he possessed his See in peace. But even had adversity followed him to the end of his days, still his words above mentioned would remain true. The trials would have passed, would soon have ended, because St. Jerome rightly says: “What ends with time is of short duration,” in comparison with Eternity. May you also comfort yourself with the recollection of these words when a storm assails you. It will soon pass away; it will cease; it lasts not for ever. But still, during the storm, do not neglect to follow the example of the Apostles, who, while a tempest lashed the waves of the ! sea, cried :” Lord save us, we perish.” Your God has still the power to calm wind and sea. “The winds and the sea obey him” (Math. viii.).
II. St. Athanasius is wrongfully accused of the most horrible vice. He defends himself, exposes the falsity of his calumniators, brings his innocence to light, but demands no vengeance of God, neither does he curse or hate his enemies. God permits you to defend yourself, if you are calumniated or falsely accused of wickedness, but he does not permit you to hate or curse your enemies, nor to demand or take vengeance on them. “Vengeance belongeth to me ; “says He, ” and I will repay.” “The Lord is a Lord of vengeance,” says David, not man. If you desire to take vengeance on your enemy, you anticipate the Lord to your own great damage, as he says: “He that seeketh to revenge himself shall find vengeance from the Lord” (Eccles. xxviii.). Such a man harms himself much more than he can harm his neighbor with all his vengeance. St. Lawrence Justinian says: “Those who desire to take vengeance on others manifest clearly that they are children of hell, where the fire is never quenched.”
“Chastity, thou precious pearl, found by few, even hated by some, and sought only by those who are worthy of thee! Thou art the joy of the prophets, the ornament of the apostles, the life of the angels, the crown of the saints.”
Novena to Saint Athanasius
I. My most loving Saint, behold me kneeling at thy feet, beseeching thee with all the affection of my heart to grant me thy special protection, particularly when in danger of offending God. O my dear and holy advocate, remember me before the throne of the most holy Trinity, and obtain for me from the infinite goodness of God, the virtues of humility, purity, obedience, and the grace to fulfill exactly the duties of my state.
II. O my dear Saint Athanasius, I renew to the Lord, through thee, the holy resolutions which I have frequently made of intending to love and serve Him faithfully. I am resolved to detach myself from every earthly thing, and I desire ardently to unite myself to Him, as my first beginning, last end, and sovereign good. My dear St.Athanasius, I beseech thee to offer to the most holy Trinity the sacrifice of my whole being, particularly of my judgment and will, in order to conform fully to God most holy, because I desire nothing else besides His grace and His holy love.
III. My sweet and holy Protector St. Athanasius, behold me again full of love for thee and full of confidence, beseeching thee to cast thyself on thy knees before the throne of the most holy Trinity, and entreat most ardently that God, through His infinite goodness, may grant me the grace to fly sin, and the gift of final perseverance. Thou knowest, O my dear Saint , how great are the temptations to which man is subject, and how continual are the perils I run of being lost; do thou assist me with thy efficacious prayers.
Most holy, most august, most amiable and divine Trinity, I fall prostrate before the throne of Thy immense majesty, and full of the sweetest confidence, I present to Thee the merits of .this, Thy servant, and those, moreover, of holy Mary, whom Thou hast given me as a most loving Mother, Queen, and Advocate. Therefore, I beseech Thee, in view of their merits, be pleased to grant me the graces which I particularly desire…. O Lord, I hope in Thee, let me not be confounded. Grant my prayer, O Lord, and have pity on me.
V. The Lord led the just man through right paths, And showed him the kingdom of God.
Let us pray:
In the law there was a precept that cities of refuge should be established, so that those who in any way soever were sought for to be put to death, might have means of saving themselves. And in the consummation of the ages, when that same Word of the Father was come among us, who before had spoken to Moses, he gave this commandment again, saying: When they shall persecute you in this city, flee into another. And a little later he added: When you shall see that abomination of desolation, which was spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (he that readeth, let him understand), then they that are in Judea, let them flee to the mountains; and he that is on the house-top, let him not come down to take anything out of his house; and he that is in the field, let him not go back to take his coat.
Knowing these things, the Saints ordered their own conduct accordingly. For what the Lord now commanded, was the same also as he had spoken through his Saints before his coming in the flesh; and this rule leads men to perfection. For what God has commanded is most certainly to be done. And so the Word Himself, made man for us, did not disdain to hide himself even as we do, when he was sought after; and when he suffeed persecution, to flee and avoid the snares. But when He Himself had arrived at the time He had appointed, wherein He willed to suffer in the body for all, He gave Himself up of His own accord to the snares.
Holy men, then, having learnt this example of the Saviour (for they were all taught by him, whether of old or in these latter days), acted lawfully in their struggles against their persecutors, by fleeing and by hiding themselves when sought after. For since they did not know the end of time appointed for them by divine providence, they would not rashly give themselves up to those who lay in wait for them; but on the other hand, knowing that it is written, that in the hands of God are the lots of men, and that the Lord kills and makes live; they rather persevered unto the end, going about, as the Apostle says, in sheepskins and goatskins, being in want, distressed, wandering in deserts, and lying hid in dens and caves of the earth, until either the time appointed for their death should come, or God, Who had appointed that same time, should speak with them, and restrain their snares, or else give them over to their persecutors, according as seemed good to Him.
Prayer of Saint Athanasius
from Glories of Mary St. Alphonsus
Saint Athanasius lived in the fourth century and was the Bishop of Alexandria in Egypt for 46 years. Banned from his diocese at least five times, he spent a total of 17 years in exile. The famous convert to the Church, John Henry Cardinal Newman, described him as a “principal instrument after the Apostles by which the sacred truths of Christianity have been conveyed and secured to the world.” Often referred to as the Champion of Orthodoxy, Saint Athanasius was undoubtedly one of the most courageous defenders of the Faith in the entire history of the Church. If anyone can be singled out as a saint for our times, surely it is Saint Athanasius. The following letter of his could, almost word for word, have been written yesterday.
May God console you! . . . What saddens you … is the fact that others have occupied the Churches by violence, while during this time you are on the outside. It is a fact that they have the premises–but you have the Apostolic Faith. They can occupy our Churches, but they are outside the True Faith. You remain outside the places of worship, but the Faith dwells within you. Let us consider: what is more important, the place or the Faith? The True Faith, obviously. Who has lost and who has won in this struggle–the one who keeps the premises or the one who keeps the Faith?
True, the premises are good when the Apostolic Faith is preached there; they are holy if everything takes place there in a holy way . . .
You are the ones who are happy; you who remain within the Church by your Faith, who hold firmly to the foundations of the Faith which has come down to you from Apostolic Tradition. And if an execrable jealousy has tried to shake it on a number of occasions, it has not succeeded. They are the ones who have broken away from it in the present crisis.
No one, ever, will prevail against your faith, beloved brothers. And we believe that God will give us our Churches back some day.
Thus, the more violently they try to occupy the places of worship, they more they separate themselves from the Church. They claim that they represent the Church; but in reality, they are the ones who are expelling themselves from it and going astray.
Even if Catholics faithful to tradition are reduced to a handful, they are the ones who are the True Church of Jesus Christ.
From the Butlers Lives of Saints, 1821
…In those perilous times, God raised up many holy pastors, whom He animated with His spirit, and strengthened in the defense of His truth. Among these St. Athanasius was the most illustrious champion. By his undaunted courage, and unparalleled greatness of soul under the most violent persecutions, he merited a crown equal to that of the most glorious martyrs: by his erudition, eloquence, and writings he holds an illustrious place among the principal doctors of the church ; and by the example of his virtue, by which he rivaled the most renowned anchorets of the deserts, and the most holy confessors, he stemmed the torrent of scandal and iniquity, which threatened to bear down all before it.
of Saint Athanasius in Private Life
by St. Gregory Nazianzen
“He was most humble and lowly in mind, as his virtue was most sublime and inimitable. He was most courteous to all, and every one had easy access to him. He was meek, gentle, compassionate, amiable in his discourse, but much more so in his life; of an angelical disposition; mild in his reproofs, and instructive in his commendations; in both which he observed such even measures, that his reproof spoke the kindness of a father, and his commendation the authority of a master; as neither was his indulgence over tender, nor his severity harsh. His life supplied the place of sermons, and his sermons prevented correction. In him all ranks might find enough to admire, and enough to imitate; one might commend his unwearied austerity in fasting and prayer; another his perseverance in watchings and the divine praises; a third his admirable care of the poor, a fourth his courage in checking the injustice of the rich, or his condescension to the humble.”
Thus St. Gregory Nazianzen, who says he was a load-stone to dissenters, drawing them to his opinion, unless hardened in malice; and always at least raising in them a secret reverence and veneration for his person; but that he was an adamant to his persecutors ; no more capable of impressions against justice, than a rock of marble is of yielding to any slight touch. After innumerable combats, and as many great victories, this glorious saint, having governed the church of Alexandria forty-six years, was called to a life exempt from labor and suffering, on the second of May, on a Thursday, in the year 373.
He ended his life in a holy old age, and went to keep company with his fathers, the patriarchs, prophets, apostles and martyrs, who had fought valiantly for the truth, as he had done: and to comprise his epitaph “in few words, he departed this life with far greater honor and glory than what he had received in his more than triumphant entries into Alexandria, when he returned from his blandishments: so much was his death lamented by all good men; and the immortal glory of his name remained imprinted in their hearts.” He desires the saint “to look down upon him from heaven, to favor and assist him in the government of his flock, and to preserve it in the true faith: and if, for the sins of the world, heretics were to prevail against it, to deliver him from these evils, and to bring him, by his intercession, to enjoy God in his company.”
The humility, modesty, and charity of this great saint; his invincible meekness towards his enemies, who were the most implacable and basest of men, and the heroic fortitude, patience, and zeal, by which he triumphed over the persecutions of almost the whole world confederated against him, and of four emperors, Constantine, Constantius, Julian, and Valens, three of whom employed wiles, stratagems, and hypocrisy, and sometimes open force to destroy him: these, I say, and all other eminent virtues, have rendered his name venerable in the church to the latest ages, which he ceases not to instruct and edify by his writings.
“We do not worship a creature. Inconceivable! For such an error belongs to heathens and Arians. Rather, we worship the Lord of creation, the Incarnate Word of God, knowing that the Word was made flesh (John. 1:14), we recognize Him as God even after He has come into the flesh.”
“If He Who was born of the Virgin is King, the Mother Who begot Him is properly and truly esteemed a queen and a lady.”
Music: Dominus dixit ad me
6th Century Old Roman Chant.
Psalm 2: 1-5: Why have the Gentiles raged, and the people devised vain things? The kings of the earth stood up, and the princes met together, against the Lord and against his Christ. Let us break their bonds asunder: and let us cast away their yoke from us. He that dwelleth in heaven shall laugh at them: and the Lord shall deride them. Then shall he speak to them in his anger, and trouble them in his rage.