Date 343
Council Serdica
Ancient Sources Athanasius, Apologia Secunda 37-40

The holy council, by the grace of God assembled at Serdica, from Rome, Spain, Gaul, Italy, Campania, Calabria, Apulia, Africa, Sardinia, Pannonia, Mœsia, Dacia, Noricum, Siscia, Dardania, the other Dacia, Macedonia, Thessaly, Achaia, Epirus, Thrace, Rhodope, Palestine, Arabia, Crete, and Egypt, to their beloved brothers, the presbyters and ceacons, and to all the Holy Church of God abiding at Alexandria, sends health in the Lord.

We were not ignorant, but the fact was well known to us, even before we received the letters of your piety, that the supporters of the abominated heresy of the Arians were practicing many dangerous machinations, rather to the destruction of their own souls, than to the injury of the Church. For this has ever been the object of their unprincipled craft; this is the deadly design in which they have been continually engaged; viz. how they may best expel from their places and persecute all who are to be found anywhere of orthodox sentiments, and maintaining the doctrine of the catholic church, which was delivered to them from the fathers. Against some they have laid false accusations; others they have driven into banishment; others they have destroyed by the punishments inflicted on them. At any rate they endeavored by violence and tyranny to surprise the innocence of our brother and fellow-Bishop Athanasius, and therefore conducted their enquiry into his case without any care, without any faith, without any sort of justice. Accordingly having no confidence in the part they had played on that occasion, nor yet in the reports they had circulated against him, but perceiving that they were unable to produce any certain evidence respecting the case, when they came to the city of Serdica, they were unwilling to meet the council of all the holy bishops. From this it became evident that the decision of our brother and fellow-Bishop Julius was a just one; for after cautious deliberation and care he had determined, that we ought not to hesitate at all about communion with our brother Athanasius. For he had the credible testimony of eighty bishops, and was also able to advance this fair argument in his support that by the mere means of our dearly beloved brethren his own presbyters, and by correspondence, he had defeated the design of Eusebius and his fellows, who relied more upon violence than upon a judicial enquiry.

Wherefore all the bishops from all parts determined upon holding communion with Athanasius on the ground that he was innocent. And let your charity also observe, that when he came to the holy council assembled at Serdica, the bishops of the East were informed of the circumstance, as we said before, both by letter, and by injunctions conveyed by word of mouth, and were invited by us to be present. But, being condemned by their own consciences, they had recourse to unbecoming excuses, and set themselves to avoid the enquiry. They demanded that an innocent man should be rejected from our communion, as a culprit, not considering how unbecoming, or rather how impossible, such a proceeding was. And as for the reports which were framed in the Mareotis by certain most wicked and most abandoned youths, to whose hands one would not commit the very lowest office of the ministry, it is certain that they were ex parte statements. For neither was our brother the Bishop Athanasius present on the occasion, nor the Presbyter Macarius who was accused by them. And besides, their enquiry, or rather their falsification of facts, was attended by the most disgraceful circumstances. Sometimes heathens, sometimes catechumens, were examined, not that they might declare what they knew, but that they might assert those falsehoods, which they had been taught by others. And when you presbyters, who were in charge in the absence of your bishop, desired to be present at the enquiry, in order that you might show the truth, and disprove the falsehoods, no regard was paid to you; they would not permit you to be present, but drove you away with insult.

Now although their calumnies have been most plainly exposed before all men by these circumstances; yet we found also, on reading the reports, that the most iniquitous Ischyras, who has obtained from them the empty title of bishop as his reward for the false accusation, had convicted himself of calumny. He declares in the reports that at the very time when, according to his positive assertions, Macarius entered his cell, he lay there sick; whereas Eusebius and his fellows had the boldness to write that Ischyras was standing up and offering when Macarius came in.

The base and slanderous charge, which they next alleged against him, has become well-known to all men. They raised a great outcry, affirming that Athanasius had committed murder, and had made away with one Arsenius, a Melitian bishop, whose loss they pretended to deplore with feigned lamentations and fictitious tears, and demanded that the body of a living man, as if a dead one, should be given up to them. But their fraud was not undetected; one and all knew that the person was alive, and was numbered among the living. And when these men, who are ready upon any opportunity, perceived their falsehoods detected (for Arsenius showed himself alive, and so proved that he had not been made away with, and was not dead), yet they would not rest, but proceeded to add other to their former calumnies, and to slander the man by a fresh expedient. Well, our brother Athanasius, dearly beloved, was not confounded, but again in the present case also with great boldness challenged them to the proof, and we too prayed and exhorted them to come to the trial, and if they were able, to establish their charge against him. O great arrogance! O dreadful pride! or rather, if one must say the truth, O evil and accusing conscience! For this is the view which all men take of it.

Wherefore, beloved brethren, we admonish and exhort you, above all things to maintain the right faith of the catholic church. You have undergone many severe and grievous trials; many are the insults and injuries which the catholic church has suffered, but ‘he that endures to the end, the same shall be saved.’ Wherefore even though they still recklessly assail you, let your tribulation be unto you for joy. For such afflictions are a sort of martyrdom, and such confessions and tortures as yours will not be without their reward, but you shall receive the prize from God. Therefore strive above all things in support of the sound faith, and of the innocence of your bishop and our fellow-minister Athanasius. We also have not held our peace, nor been negligent of what concerns your comfort, but have deliberated and done whatsoever the claims of charity demand. We sympathize with our suffering brethren, and their affliction we consider as our own.

Accordingly we have written to beseech our most religious and godly Emperors, that their kindness would give orders for the release of those who are still suffering from affliction and oppression, and would command that none of the magistrates, whose duty it is to attend only to civil causes, give judgment upon clergy, nor henceforward in any way, on pretence of providing for the churches, attempt anything against the brethren; but that every one may live, as he prays and desires to do, free from persecution, from violence and fraud, and in quietness and peace may follow the catholic and apostolic faith. As for Gregory, who has the reputation of being illegally appointed by the heretics, and has been sent by them to your city, we wish your unanimity to understand, that he has been deposed by a judgment of the whole sacred council, although indeed he has never at any time been considered to be a bishop at all. Wherefore receive gladly your Bishop Athanasius, for to this end we have dismissed him in peace. And we exhort all those who either through fear, or through the intrigues of certain persons, have held communion with Gregory, that now being admonished, exhorted, and persuaded by us, they withdraw from that his detestable communion, and straightway unite themselves to the catholic church.

But forasmuch as we have learnt that Aphthonius, Athanasius the son of Capito, Paul, and Plutio, our fellow Presbyters, have also suffered from the machinations of Eusebius and his fellows, so that some of them have had trial of exile, and others have fled on peril of their lives, we have in consequence thought it necessary to make this known unto you, that you may understand that we have received and acquitted them also, being aware that whatever has been done by Eusebius and his fellows against the orthodox has tended to the glory and commendation of those who have been attacked by them. It were fitting that your Bishop and our brother Athanasius should make this known to you respecting them, to his own respecting his own; but as for more abundant testimony he wished the holy council also to write to you, we deferred not to do so, but hastened to signify this unto you, that you may receive them as we have done, for they also are deserving of praise, because through their piety towards Christ they have been thought worthy to endure violence at the hands of the heretics.

What decrees have been passed by the holy council against those who are at the head of the Arian heresy, and have offended against you, and the rest of the churches, you will learn from the subjoined documents. We have sent them to you, that you may understand from them that the catholic church will not overlook those who offend against her.

Translation from Athanasius, Apologia 37-40 (NPNF2 vol. 4, pp. 119-21)

Adapted by SMT

Last updated: 4-17-2011

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