3.17.1 “Victor Constantinus Maximus Augustus, to the holy council gathered in Tyre. It would perhaps be appropriate and most fitting for the prosperity of these times if the catholic church were free from controversy and the servants of Christ would now be delivered from all abuse.

3.17.2 But since some are driven by a desire for unhealthy contentiousness (I would prefer not to say anything else) and live in a way that is beneath them, they try to throw everything into confusion. This seems to me to have exceeded every conceivable calamity. Therefore I urge you, as the saying goes, to be united in your course without delay, to fill the council with spiritual joy, to come to the aid of those in need, to correct the brothers who are in danger, to bring the members who have separated back to unity, and to set right what is being done in error, in order to restore proper harmony, as opportunity permits, to those great provinces. A few contemptuous men (alas, how absurd!) destroyed such harmony.

3.17.3 I believe that the agreement of all people is pleasing to the Lord God, is the noblest wish of us all, and will bring you no small amount of honor if you should be the ones to restore peace.

3.17.4 So do not hesitate any longer, but from now on increase your zeal and strive to find the appropriate solution to the present circumstances, assembling, of course, with all sincerity and faith. See to it that you obtain peace for yourselves and for everyone in all matters.

3.17.5 I have sent to the bishops whom you wish to come and participate in your reflections. I have sent Dionysius, who is of consular rank, both to remind those who are so obliged to go to the council with you and to oversee your business, with an eye toward good order especially.

3.17.6 For if anyone tries to escape our command and refuses to appear at the council (which I doubt will happen), we will forthwith dispatch one who will banish him by an imperial ordinance and instruct him that it is improper to ever resist the emperor’s decisions made in service of the truth.

3.17.7 Finally, your piety will be tasked with devising the appropriate remedy for the transgressions or erroneous occurrences by unanimous decision, not based on enmity nor on favor, but rather according to apostolic church law, in order to free the church from all blasphemy, ease my anxiety, and bring yourselves great happiness by restoring gracious peace to those who now stand at odds. May God preserve you, dear brothers.”

3.17.8 He wrote this after he had ordered that a council be held in Tyre. He had listened to the false accusers because they were priests. Although he resolutely endured the tension on his piety, he put up with this irritation as a just judge, for he believed that the opponents had been wronged. Moreover, he commanded that after the council had completed its task by rightly judging each matter, the whole council would come to Jerusalem for the dedication of the church he had built there.

3.17.9 He also wrote another letter to the council with instructions that not only Athanasius but also Arius should appear at the council and that the actions of each should be investigated impartially. If, as Arius claimed, he had suffered separation because of malice despite being within the true faith, he should first condemn himself for his attacks against the truth and then keep silent.

3.17.10 This was under the proviso that Arius accept correction not in order to seek vengeance against his own bishop Athanasius and construct suspicion against him. And if it be found that malice was the cause, the bishops at the council should strive to peacefully reunite the two. But if Arius had feigned his repentance, he should return to Alexandria and there be judged in this matter.

3.17.11 The praiseworthy emperor wrote this out of concern for the unity of everyone so that, once every quarrel there had been removed, they might peacefully carry out the dedication of the church in Jerusalem, consecrating it to God.

3.17.12 Impious Arius, however, refused to appear at the council in Tyre. Great Athanasius arrived at that council in Tyre with much eagerness along with his priests Timothy and Macarius and with many other clerics and noblemen attending him.

3.17.13 When the bishops had thus assembled in Tyre and had all gathered in one place along with Dionysius, who was of consular rank, the most prominently distinguished men of his entourage, and the governor of the province, that Dionysius delivered the emperor’s letter to the council of bishops.

3.17.14 Some other bishops accused of doctrinal errors also appeared, among whom was Asclepas of Gaza. But I first want to insert in this writing the sinister accusation against Saint Athanasius then describe the events which transpired at the well-known trial.

3.17.15 A certain Arsenius, who had previously been a lector under Athanasius, was accused of certain crimes and was about to be killed by a mob. When great Athanasius (who had investigated the case) learned of this, he saved Arsenius like so: Because he found out that Arsenius had been falsely accused, he came at night and rescued the man, enabling him to flee and escape being murdered.

3.17.16 Afterwards, the followers of Melitius found him in Egypt and arranged for him to be granted the title of bishop. After a while, those of Melitius’s faction, at the instigation of Eusebius of Nicomedia (he was the one devising crafty false accusations against the pious everywhere), hid this very Arsenius and asked him to remain hidden for a long time.

3.17.17 Then they cut off the right hand of a corpse, placed it, embalmed, in a wooden box, and carried it around everywhere, claiming that Athanasius had murdered and dismembered Arsenius. They denounced Athanasius as a murderer.

3.17.18 But the all-seeing eye of God did not permit Arsenius to remain hidden for long. First it became clear that he lived in Egypt in the territory of Thebes. Then God (as Arsenius later reported) made him consider the salvation Athanasius had obtained for him against all expectations. He would be doing wrong and committing a grave injustice if he should look the other way while his benefactor suffered death for his sake rather than himself dying for him. So the Lord of everything led him to Tyre, where the false accusers were exhibiting the infamous hand before the judges.

3.17.19 When Athanasius’s companions saw him, they took him to their quarters, and when they had learned from him how God had intervened and what he had decided, they urged him to stay hidden for the time being.

3.17.20 As morning drew near, great Athanasius entered the council chamber together with his priests Timothy and Macarius as well as the people from Alexandria who had accompanied him there.

3.17.21 The conspirators had brought in a woman who was living licentiously. She kept on loudly claiming that she had taken a vow of virginity but that Athanasius, while visiting her quarters, had raped her and corrupted her against her will. As she was saying this, the accused entered, and with him the priest Timothy—an admirable man—and the others.

3.17.22 When the judges ordered Athanasius to defend himself against the accusation, Athanasius remained silent, as if he were not himself the accused, while Timothy said to the woman, “Woman, have I ever met you? Have I ever entered your house?” She cried out even more shamelessly in response to Timothy, reaching out, grabbing him, and saying to Timothy himself, “You took away my virginity; you stripped me of self-control; you corrupted the decency of my soul,” and whatever else women who have no shame are wont to say due to excessive intemperance.

3.17.23 This caused more disruption to the proceedings than any wonder, for Athanasius had been accused, but Timothy had been blamed. So those who had manufactured the drama were put to shame, and even the conspirators among the judges blushed. They had the woman thrown out.

3.17.24 Then godly Athanasius said that they should not send the woman away but should question her and find out who had caused this matter. But the false accusers cried out that there were other, more serious charges which could not be resolved by any skill or cleverness. “Sight, not hearing, will judge the evidence.” Having said this, they presented that infamous box and uncovered the embalmed hand.

3.17.25 When those in the assembly saw, each one cried out: the conspirators of the false accusers said the atrocity was genuine; those who knew of the deception said Arsenius was still alive in hiding and laughed.

3.17.26 A great uproar filled the assembly. When with difficulty a brief silence was achieved, Athanasius, the accused, asked the judges whether any of them were acquainted with Arsenius. When many said that they knew the man well, Athanasius gave the command to bring him in.

3.17.27 So Arsenius came in and stood in the middle of the assembly. Athanasius again asked, “Is this Arsenius, the man whom I killed and whom these men mutilated after his slaughter by taking away his right hand?” Very many people in the council confirmed that he was Arsenius. Then godly Athanasius removed Arsenius’s cloak and pointed to both of his hands—the right and the left. “Let no one look for another,” he said, “for each of us humans receives two hands from the maker of all.”

3.17.28 Though this was shown to be true by the judgment of God, who sees all, and though the accusers and their accomplices among the judges ought to have sunk down and prayed that the earth itself would swallow them up whole, they did the opposite. They filled the assembly with uproar and discord, calling Athanasius a wizard and saying that he was deceiving people’s vision with magical trickery.

3.17.29 They rebelled against him and tried to rip apart and kill the champion of piety, moving even the earth itself, so to speak, and throwing dust into the air like those who once cried out against the divine apostle Paul, “Get rid of him at once, for he does not deserve to live.”1

3.17.30 But those tasked by the emperor with preserving order prevented his murder. They spirited him away, victorious, and ensured his salvation by guiding him on board a ship. After boarding the ship, godly Athanasius hastened to the imperial court and thus escaped the hands of his would-be murderers.

3.17.31 These ones immediately sent to the Mareotes some like-minded bishops: Theognis of Nicaea, Maris of Chalcedon, Theodore of Heraclea in Thrace, Narcissus of Cilicia, Ursacius, and some other like-minded people. Their task was to draw up one-sided charges against Athanasius there. (The Mareotes, which is in Alexandria, is named for Lake Maria, which is nearby.)

3.17.32 They instructed them also to send the author of the evils, Arius, as quickly as possible to them at Aelia (that is, Jerusalem), to which they had set out from Tyre with the bishops at the council. For the emperor had ordered the entire council from Tyre to assemble afterwards in Jerusalem with all the bishops from everywhere, as I said before, to consecrate the temples he had built there.

3.17.33 He had also dispatched there some of the more loyal officials, distinguished in piety and faithfulness, with orders to lavishly furnish everyone with everything—not only bishops, priests, and their attendants, but also everyone in need who assembled from everywhere. An untold multitude from all parts of the East, so to speak, had flowed together there for the dedication of the new Jerusalem. The divine altar was adorned with imperial fabrics and golden treasures set with precious stones.

3.17.34 When impious Arius came to Aelia on the day of the dedication with much eagerness especially upon hearing that Athanasius was staying away from that festival, those of the same mind as him (I mean the followers of Eusebius of Nicomedia and Patrophilus of Scythopolis) joyfully received him.

3.17.35 Those belonging to the true faith, however, opposed Arius when they saw him and turned away from him as from something unclean. They drove him from the church and ordered that he be expelled from the council, with the understanding that he would stand trial at the council in Alexandria, in which, they had determined, he would also be convicted. This, it is said, was also in line with the order of our Christ-loving Emperor Constantine.

3.17.36 Once that corrupter had thus been removed and they had celebrated the festival in a most peaceful and splendid manner, the all-praiseworthy and most faithful emperor learned of the splendor and extravagance of the festal assembly and was filled with extreme joy. He greatly extolled the Lord of good things for having granted him this request also.

3.17.37 After the festival of dedication had so gloriously run its course, the majority of bishops returned to their own countries, especially those who had not attended the council in Tyre.

3.17.38 But those of the faction of Eusebius of Nicomedia, who along with him had accepted the disgrace of Arius, came up with Eusebius himself and the other bishops to Tyre. There they awaited the return of those like-minded to them from the Mareotes.

3.17.39 Meanwhile, Athanasius had arrived at the imperial court. He came before the pious, God-loving Emperor Constantine and explained to him all the intrigue undertaken against him. The kind, sympathetic Emperor Constantine was saddened in spirit at the plots against Athanasius and disturbed at the unjust judgment against him.

3.17.40 Especially because Athanasius begged him with tears to summon the accusers and the judges and to resume the trial before the pious emperor himself, the emperor sent letters to those in Tyre who had returned from Aelia to inform them that Athanasius was with him and to request that they come to Constantinople as quickly as possible. The letter reads as follows:2


Next Chapter – 3.18 The God-loving Emperor Constantine’s letter to the bishops regathered at Tyre from Aelia

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

Click here to read Book 1 in its entirety.


Created by RR 6-20-22

  1. Cf. Acts 22:22.
  2. The following letter is also preserved in Athanasius, Apologia secunda contra Arianos 86; Socrates 1.34; Sozomen 2.28.2-12.

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