3.15.1 “Victor Constantinus Maximus Augustus, to Father Bishop Alexander. Will all-abominable malice even now bark back with profane sophisms to cause delay? ‘What, then, is the issue at hand? Do we teach other doctrine, contrary to the verdict decided by the Holy Spirit through you, most honored brother?’

3.15.2 Arius, the famous Arius, I say, has come to me, Augustus, at the request of very many people. He promises that he has the same thoughts concerning our catholic faith as were determined and confirmed through you at the council in Nicaea, where I too was present and joined in the determination as your fellow servant.

3.15.3 So he immediately came to us along with Euzoius, for they had learned the purpose of the imperial order. I debated with them in the presence of many others about the word of life. I myself am the one who has dedicated my mind to God with sincere faith; I myself am your fellow servant, who has taken up all concern for our peace and unity.”

3.15.4 And further on: “Therefore I am writing not only to remind you, but also with the expectation that you receive those who come in supplication. If you find that they are seeking the true and ever-living apostolic faith formulated in Nicaea (for they have also assured us that this is their opinion), take care of them all, I urge you. For if you should make provision for them, you could conquer hatred with unity.

3.15.5 Therefore support unity, I urge you; transmit the values of friendship to those not parted from the faith; let me hear what I wish and desire—peace and unity between you all. May God preserve you, most honorable father.”

3.15.6 The emperor wrote this in the hope that it would be profitable, not wanting the church to break apart. He desired to lead everyone to harmony.

3.15.7 After godly Alexander had received the emperor’s letter, he lived a little longer, then reached a blessed end of this life. He had been bishop of the church of God in Alexandria for sixteen years altogether: nine years and one month before the council in Nicaea, three years and six months at the council,1 three years and five months after the council, a total of sixteen years.

3.15.8 Athanasius took over the function of the priesthood. Our next account will make clear his skill in discretion, piety, and regulation of the church.

3.15.9 When the heretics found out that godly Athanasius was in charge of the church, they first met up and then united against him with one goal: to eradicate (if one may speak this way) all memory of him from the earth, just as the Jews had plotted against Christ. They immediately tried to persuade the God-loving emperor to enact imperial decrees against him.

3.15.10 But we must first briefly describe the man’s conduct from childhood on. When blessed Alexander was entrusted with the management of the priesthood after blessed Achillas, he invited the clergy to a feast after the commemoration of the holy martyr Bishop Peter’s martyrdom. He waited until they had gathered, and from a vantage point he saw some boys playing in accord with church rules.

3.15.11 The house faced the sea, and the holy boys were playing along its banks. Bishop Athanasius was among them, as well as other priests and deacons of the same age. They brought him little catechumens to baptize, and Athanasius baptized them all according to church custom as bishop. He had in mind to offer them a word of teaching.

3.15.12 Godly Alexander therefore, amazed at these events, had the boys brought to him. After he found out exactly how everything had happened, with the approval of the clergy with him, he sealed the boys who had been baptized with the seal of Christ and applied the holy symbols of saving baptism, thus perfecting their baptism. He summoned Athanasius’s parents and entrusted him to them with instructions to teach him to read, to instruct him in the Lord as much as possible, and to give Athanasius up to him, or rather to the church, should he make progress, as Hannah, it is said, gave up Samuel.2

3.15.13 Some time later Athanasius’s parents brought him to Bishop Alexander. The bishop immediately outfitted him in a priestly ephod,3 advancing him as a new Samuel for the church to defend against those who are truly foreigners.4 He had to endure many struggles with the heretics, who organized a conspiracy—not a mere forty men as with the holy Apostle Paul,5 but the entire multitude of heretics throughout the entire world, especially the Ariomaniacs. So Athanasius sang with David:

3.15.14 “Though an army stand against me, my heart will not fear; though war rise against me, even then I will hope” [Psalm 27:3; LXX 26:3], namely, to be adorned with a wreath of victory, which he hoped to receive from the Lord, who also said to him, “Take courage” [Acts 23:11], and, “Do not fear, for I am with you, and no one will draw near to harm you” [Acts 18:9-10].

3.15.15 We now want to omit a description of the majority of what happened to him lest we wear out future readers by lengthening the account in this work (for the things he endured when godless heretics persecuted him were countless). I will content myself with his more notable deeds, which all his acquaintances praise.

3.15.16 As we said, immediately after he assumed leadership over the church, the followers of Eusebius of Nicomedia were very hostile to Athanasius himself. At that time they seized the emperor’s displeasure with great Athanasius as a convenient opportunity (so they thought) for their own goal. They brashly stirred up everything against him in an effort to dislodge him from the episcopacy, condemning him as having snuck into the priesthood without qualification. Their only hope for the triumph of the Arian opinion was to get Athanasius out of the way.

3.15.17 So the adherents to the wicked Arian heresy conspired against him and hired certain adherents to the Melitian heresy—Hosion, Eudaemon, and Callinicus. Through them they set in motion various accusations against godly Athanasius. First, they said that Athanasius had snuck into the episcopacy and commanded the Egyptians to pay tax on linen garments for the benefit of the church of the Alexandrians. They sewed together a second slanderous accusation, worse than the first. They said that Athanasius, plotting against the emperor’s interests, sent to a certain Philoumenus a chest full of gold to oppose Emperor Constantine.

3.15.18 Third, a man named Ischyras committed an act deserving death several times over. Although he had never entered the priesthood, he dared to perform priestly duties in the villages of the so-called Mareotes district, assuming the title of priest for himself. At this time the holy Bishop Athanasius also came to the Mareotes district and visited the churches there. When he learned of the situation with Ischyras, he sent the priest Macarius to investigate whether the reports were true. Because Ischyras was convicted by this investigation, he hastily fled from there to Nicomedia and sought refuge with the followers of Eusebius.

3.15.19 On account of their hatred towards Athanasius they took him in as a priest and promised to reward him further with the honor of the episcopacy if he would agree to level an accusation against Athanasius. He sewed together the following story: “Athanasius’s priest Macarius, sent by Athanasius, attacked our church in the Mareotes district. He burst into the sanctuary, overturned the holy altar, broke the sacramental cup, and burned the holy books.”

3.15.20 The accusers reported this and similar things to the emperor through the followers of Eusebius of Nicomedia, moving him to wrath against Athanasius: “He received the imperial letter but did not submit and did not admit Arius despite his confession of the faith before your piety.” When the emperor heard the reports against Athanasius, he was shocked, so he immediately ordered Bishop Athanasius to come to him in Constantinople posthaste.

3.15.21 When he arrived, he met with the emperor, refuted the lies of the accusers, and reassured the emperor.

3.15.22 The faithful emperor furnished him with an imperial letter and sent him to Alexandria with tremendous honor. He took over the church entrusted to him by God. The pious emperor’s letter to the church of Alexandria (the ending of which I will include in this work) also proves this.

3.15.23 But let the reader of this work not reproach me for failing to include the whole letter in this account of church history, for I could not find the entirety recorded by anyone even though I searched all the relevant authors. More than this, they recorded many other letters in abridged form, writing only certain prominent parts of them in the histories they composed. So I am even more upset than all of you about it.

3.15.24 Now let us return to the matter at hand and insert the end of the letter in this history, as promised. It says this:6


Next Chapter – 3.16 Part of the letter of Emperor Constantine written on behalf of Athanasius to the church of Alexandria

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Created by RR 6-18-22

  1. Cf. 2.37.28 and footnotes.
  2. Cf. 1 Samuel 1.
  3. Cf. 1 Samuel 2:18.
  4. The Greek word translated “foreigners” is often used in the LXX of Philistines.
  5. Cf. Acts 23:13.
  6. The following letter excerpt is also preserved in Theodoret 1.27.

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