Reference: Urk. 34
Doc. 27
CPG 2042
Incipit: Κακὸς ἑρμηνεὺς
Date: 333
Ancient source used Athanasius, Defense of the Nicene Definition 40
Modern edition used H-G. Opitz, Athanasius Werke, band 2 (Berlin: De Gruyter, 1935).
Other ancient sources Socrates, Church History 1.9.30
Anonymous Church History 3.19.1

Constantine Augustus to Arius and to Arians.

(1.) A wicked interpreter is really an image and a statue of the Devil. For as skilled sculptors mould him for an incitement to deception, as if cunningly contriving a goodly appearance of beauty for him, who by nature is absolutely most base, that he may destroy miserable persons by offering error to them, in the same way, I think, must act this fellow, to whom only this appears to be worthy of zeal: namely, to proffer profusely the poisons of his own effrontery. (2.) Therefore he introduces a belief of unbelief – new and never yet at any time seen since men have been born. Wherefore truly that does not seem at variance from the truth, which long ago was described distinctly by the divine saying: “They are trusty for evil.” (3.) For why can anyone say this: that he who no longer desires to find any aid for alleviation has lost the grace of taking advice? Why, then, do I say: “Christ, Christ, Lord, Lord!”? Why in the world do bandits injure us daily? A certain harsh and violent audacity stands before us; it roars, gnashing its teeth, deformed by dishonor, and wounded by manifold accusations. (4.) Of course, it, just as if scattered by certain storms and waves of evils, in the law and the proclamation about you vomits pernicious words and in writing produces these, which you, who do not at all coexist with the Eternal Father of your origin, have defined by cognition about yourself. In short, it collects and gathers certain terrible and lawless impieties, now indeed agitating tongues, now again uplifted by enthusiasm for miserable persons, whom, when present for security, it deceives and destroys.

(5.) But now I wish to examine the character of its chief proponent. For what says he? He says, “Either let us hold that, of which already we have been made possessors, or let it be done, just as we ourselves desire.” He has fallen and in these matters he has fallen dead; he says: “By treachery or cleverness of knavery” – it makes no difference. He considers holy only what has crept into him through base thought. He says: “We have the masses.” (6.) Indeed, I myself shall advance a little farther, that I may become a spectator of those wars of insanity. I myself, I said, shall advance, I who have been accustomed to end wars of senseless men. Come now Ares Arius, there is need for shields. Do not do this, we beg; at least, then, let Aphrodite’s intercourse detain you. But really, would that, as you seem to fashion the finest things for the masses, so it would be your part to abound in piety toward Christ! (7.) Look, I come again as a suppliant and, though powerful in weapons in respect to the whole populace, I do not wish to fight; but fortified by Christ’s faith, I desire you both to be cured and to heal others. (8.) Why, therefore, do you say that you do these things, which befit not your character? But with what peace, tell me, or encompassed with what abundance, but rather, advanced with what rashness? Oh, audacity worthy to be destroyed by thunderbolts! For hear what he, writing with a pen distilling poison, recently has explained to me. He says: “Thus we believe.” Then I suppose, having added I know not what certain things somehow swaggeringly and quite accurately elaborated, he, going farther, left unsaid nothing at all of bitterness, but he opened the whole – as someone may say – treasury of madness. He says: “We are expelled and they take from us permission to be admitted.” (9.) But this is not at all apposite to the matter; turn your mind to what follows, for I shall use his words. He says: “We ask that, if the bishop of Alexandria remains in the same opinion, hereafter it be granted to us – according to the law’s arrangement- to celebrate the lawful and indispensable services to God.” (10.) Oh, terrible shamelessness, which ought to be refuted thoroughly by the zeal for truth! For what has happened to please him, this has been marked by conciseness of expression. What do you say, foolish one? Do you prepare to construct the disease of your savage thought against me as a discord, which is specious in our sight? And do you hasten to destroy the persons involved with your evil? (11.) “What, then,” you say, “Shall I do, if none deems me worthy to be admitted?” For this you often shout from a profane throat. But I shall speak against you: Where have you shown a clear mark and proof of your intelligence? And this you ought to have disclosed and to have established clearly for gods and men- and especially when poisonous serpents even then are by nature more savage, when they know that they themselves are found in recesses of dens.

(12.) But that is indeed quite urbane of him: that quite eagerly, just as if under a certain mask of modesty, he pretends silence. You indeed show yourself tame and submissive by the artifice of pretence; you escape the notice of many, when you within are full of countless evils and plots. But, oh, wretchedness! As the Devil has desired, so he had made Arius a manufactory of iniquity for us. (13.) Advancing now, tell me the mark of your faith and indeed not at all be silent. Oh, you possessor of a mouth perverted and a nature quickly roused to wickedness! “Do you talk of one God?” You have me of the same opinion; think so. Do you say that the “the Word of his essence is the Word without beginning and without end?” I acquiesce in this; believe so. (14.) If you add anything further, this I abrogate. If you join anything to an impious separation, I confess that I neither see nor perceive this. If you accept “the body’s lodging in respect to the administration of divine operations,” I do not reject it. If you say that “the spirit of eternity was born in the pre-eminent Word,” I receive it. Who has known the Father, unless he who comes from the Father? Whom has the Father known, unless him whom he has begotten from himself eternally and without beginning? You think that you ought to substitute a “foreign hypostasis,” believing doubtless badly; I know that the plentitude of the Fathers and the Sons pre-eminent and all-pervading power is one substance. (15.) If, therefore, you detract from him, from whom not yet ever anything has been able to be separated even by idle talkers’ process of thinking, you pave the way for the marks of addition and, in short, you determine the signs of inquiries for him, to whom he had given entire eternity for himself and uncorrupted intelligence and his assigned belief in immortality through both himself and the Church. Discard then this silly transgression of the law, you witty and sweet-voiced fellow, singing evil songs for the unbelief of senseless persons. (16.) Quite fittingly the Devil has subverted you by his own wickedness; and perhaps this seems pleasant to certain persons (for thus you have persuaded yourself). But it is in every way a destructive evil. (17.) Come now, having departed from your occupation with absurdities, listen, good Arius, for I discourse with you. Do you not understand that you have been barred publicly fro God’s church? You are lost (be well assured), unless, having regard for yourself, you condemn your present folly. But you will say that the masses act with you and dispel your anxieties.

(18.) Lend your ears and listen a little, impious Arius, and understand your folly. O God, protector of all, may you be well – disposed to what is being said, if it should admit of faith! For I, your man, holding to your propitious providence, from the very ancient Greek and Roman writing shall demonstrate clearly Arius’ madness, which has been prophesied and predicted three thousand years ago by the Erythraean sibyl. (19.) For she indeed says: “Woe to you, Libya, situated in maritime regions, for there shall come to you a time, in which with the people and your daughters you must be compelled to undergo a terrible and cruel and very difficult crisis, from which a judgment both of faith and of piety in respect to all persons will be given, but you will decline to extreme ruin, for you have dared to engulf the receptacle of celestial flowers and to mangle it with a bite and you have polluted it with iron teeth.” (20.) What then, knave? Where in the world do you admit that you are now? There, obviously; for I have your letters, which you have scraped with the pen of madness toward me, in which you say that all the Libyan populace is of the same opinion with you – doubtless in regard to salvation. But if you shall deny that this is so, I now call God to witness that truly I send to Alexandria – that you may perish more quickly – the Erythraean Sibyl’s very ancient tablet, composed in the Greek tongue. (21.) Are you, then, really blameless, gallows rogue? Have you not, then, really perished, sorry fellow, surrounded by such great horror? We know, we know your undertaking; what kind of anxiety, what kind of fear troubles you, wretched and miserable person, has not escaped our notice. Oh, the dullness of your wits, you profane person, who do not restrain your soul’s sickness and helplessness, who undermine the truth by varied discourses. And, since you are such, you are not ashamed to disparage us, now refuting (as you indeed suppose), now again admonishing (as if superior in faith and in discourses), a person from whom, of course, wretched persons are eager to procure aid for themselves, (22.) although they ought neither to associate with such a person nor, in short, to address him, unless anyone thinks that in this one’s rotten words and meters is stored the hope of living uprightly. (23.) But this is not so; indeed, in very truth it is far from it. Oh, your folly, as many of you as associate with this person! What madness, then, has compelled you to endure this one’s bitter tongue and sight?

(24.) Well; but now I shall proceed by my discourse against you yourself, you fool in respect to your soul, you wordy one in respect to your tongue, you infidel in respect to your wits. Grant to me a field for discussion (I do not say one wide-spreading and fit for horsemanship, but indeed a circle easy to trace, not one decayed, but firm and solid by nature), you truly profane and basest and dissembling person. For I am excited to say these things; but rather, having fasted a noose around you and having entangled you by discussion, I shall set you in the midst, that all the people may observe well your worthlessness. (25.) But I shall proceed now to the matter itself. Certainly, my hands have been cleansed. Let us proceed, then, to invoke God with prayers: rather, wait a little while. Tell me, you very hasty one, what God will you invoke for aid? For I cannot keep myself quiet. (26.) O Lord, you who have the supreme authority over all things, O Father of singular power, because of this profane person your Church receives both reproaches and griefs and also both wounds and pains. Arius now adapts for you a place (and very cleverly indeed), in which, constituting – as I think – a synod for himself, by the law of adoption he procures and preserves your Son Christ, born from you, the bringer of our aid. (27.) Hear, I entreat you, this marvelous faith. He thinks that you, Lord, the principle of motion, are demoted from your place. He dares to circumscribe you by a circle of a defined seat. For where is not your presence? Or where do all persons not perceive your activity from your all-pervading laws? For you yourself encompass all things and it is not right to think of either a place or anything else outside you. Thus your power with activity is infinite. (28.) Do you, God, then hear; do you, all the people, pay attention. For this fellow is shameless and useless, who, having progressed to the height both of wickedness and likewise of lawlessness, pretends piety. (29.) He says: “Away! I do not wish God to appear to be subject to suffering of outrages, and on this account I suggest and fabricate wondrous things indeed in respect to faith: that God, when he had made the newly born and the newly created essence of Christ, prepared aid for himself, as it seems indeed to me. For what you have taken from him, this you have made less.” Is this, then, your faith, spoiler and destroyer? (30.) According to hypothesis do you accept as a figment him who has condemned the figments of the heathen? Do you call foreign and – as it were – a servant of duties him who without reflection and reasoning, in that he coexists with the Father’s eternity, perfected all things? Now adapt, if indeed you dare, adapt I say, to God both precaution and hope of what will happen, also reflection, reasoning, declaration and articulation of considered judgment, and, in short, delight, laughter, grief. (31.) What then, do you say, one more wretched than the wretched, oh, truly an adviser of evil? Understand, if you can, that in your very knavery you are destroyed as a villain.

(32.) He says: “Christ has suffered for us.” But I already have said that he was sent in the form of a body. He says:” Truly; but it is necessary that we seem not to make him less in any respect.” Then, mediator of wild beasts, when you say these things, are you not mad and clearly raving? For, look, the world itself is a form or at any rate is a figure; and the stars indeed have produced their images; and, in short, the spirit of this spheroidal circle is an appearance of existing things and – as it were – a figuration. And, nevertheless, God is present everywhere. Where, therefore, in God are outrages? Or in what respect is God made less? (33.) Oh, you patricide of equity! Consider, then conjecturing from yourself, and conclude, if this seems to be a sin, that God is present in Christ. That fellow, then, has known well the disgracefulness of his talk and not slowly he brought punishment on himself. Moreover doubtless daily sins are committed in the world – and, nevertheless, God is present and punishments are not delayed. In this respect, then, what diminution is made in his power’s magnitude, if punishments are perceived everywhere? Nothing, I think. (34.) For the mind of the world is through God; through him is all stability; through him is all justice; the faith of Christ is without beginning from him. In short, God’s law is Christ, having through him boundlessness and also endlessness.

(35.) But you appear to take thought from your own self. Oh, excessive madness! Turn now to your own destruction the Devil’s sword. See, then, all see how he, when pierced by the viper’s bite, now produces lamentable sounds; how his veins and muscles, when attacked next by the venom, evoke terrible pangs; how his whole emaciated body has wasted away, is full of squalor and filth and lamentations and pallor and horror and myriad ills, and has withered frightfully; how odious and dirty in his thicket of hair; how wholly half-dead and already exhausted in its glance; how bloodless in his face and wasted under anxiety; how all things converging at the same time upon him – frenzy and madness and vanity – through the long time of the calamity have made him both boorish and bestial. (36.) For example, he does not perceive in what bad state he is. He says: “I am exalted with delight and I jump, leaping with joy, and I soar.” And again quite youthfully he says: “Well, we have perished.” (37.) And this indeed is true, for to you alone wickedness bountifully has supplied its own enthusiasms; and what had been bought for a great price, this has been given very easily to you. Come now, tell, where are your august consuls? Wash yourself, then, in the Nile, if possible, you fellow full of absurd insensibility; and indeed you have hastened to disturb the whole world by your impieties. (38.) Do you understand that I, the man of God, already know all things? But I am in doubt whether I ought to remain or to depart, for I no longer am able to look upon this person and I am ashamed at sin, Arius. You have brought us into the light; you have hurled yourself, wretched one, into darkness. This has appeared the end of your labors.

(39.) But again I return thither. You say that there is a multitude of persons wandering about you. That is likely, I think; and take them, then, I say, take them, for they have given themselves to be eaten by wolves and by lions. However, each one of these, oppressed by additional payment of ten capitation taxes and by the expenses of these, immediately will sweat, unless, running as speedily as possible to the salvation-bringing Church, he has chosen the peace of love through affection for harmony. (40.) For no longer will they, condemned for wicked complicity, be deceived by you nor will they, entangled in your abominable investigations, continue to perish absolutely. Your sophisms are clear and known to all persons, at all events for the future. Nor indeed will you yourself be able to accomplish anything, but in vain will you contrive, counterfeiting both fairness and gentleness of discourses and donning externally – so to speak – a mask of simplicity. In vain will be all your artifice, for straightway the truth will circumvent you, straightway the rain of divine power – so to speak – will quench your flames. (41.) And, of course, the functions of the public services will overtake your associates and likeminded persons, who have become liable to the senate, unless indeed they, fleeing as speedily as possible association with you, accept in exchange the uncorrupted faith. (42.) But do you, iron-hearted man, give to me an evidence of your purpose, if you have faith in yourself, and be strong in the strength of faith, and you absolutely will have a pure conscience. Come to me, come, I say, to a man of God; believe that by my interrogations I shall search your heart’s secrets; and, if any madness shall seem to be in you, I, after having invoked divine grace, shall heal you fairer than a model. But if you shall appear to be healthy in respect to spiritual matters, I, after I have recognized the light of the truth in you, shall give thanks to God and I shall rejoice with myself for the sake of piety.

(43.) And by another hand: May God guard you, beloved.

And this was executed by Syncletius and Gaudentius, magistrians, when Paterius was prefect of Egypt, and was read in the palace.

Translation from Coleman-Norton, P.R., Roman State and Christian Church, London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (SPCK) 1966, #67. Used with permission.

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