Epistle 51. Second Letter to Lucifer.
To the most glorious lord and deservedly much-desired fellow bishop Lucifer, Athanasius greeting in the Lord.
Although I believe that tidings have reached your holiness also of the persecution which the enemies of Christ have just now attempted to raise, seeking our blood, yet our own most beloved messengers can tell your piety about it. For to such a length did they dare to carry their madness by means of the soldiers, that they not only banished the Clergy of the city, but also went out to the Hermits, and laid their fatal hands upon Solitaries. Hence I also withdrew far away, lest those who entertained me should suffer trouble at their hands. For whom do Arians spare, who have spared not even their own souls? Or how can they give up their infamous actions while they persist in denying Christ our Lord the only Son of God? This is the root of their wickedness; on this foundation of sand they build up the perversity of their ways, as we find it written in the thirteenth Psalm, ‘The fool said in his heart there is no God;’ and presently follows, ‘Corrupt are they and become abominable in their works. ‘ Hence the Jews who denied the Son of God, deserved to be called ‘a sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evil doers, children without law Isaiah 1:4.’ Why ‘without law?’— because you have deserted the Lord. And so the most blessed Paul, when he had begun not only to believe in the Son of God, but also to preach His deity, wrote, ‘I know nothing against myself 1 Corinthians 4:4.’ Accordingly we too, according to your confession of faith, desire to hold the Apostolic tradition , and to live according to the commands of the divine law, that we may be found along with you in that band in which now Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles and Martyrs are rejoicing. So then, though the Arian madness, aided by external power, was so active that our brethren on account of their fury could not even see the open air with freedom, yet by God’s favour, according to your prayers, I have been able, though with trouble and danger, to see the brother who is wont to bring me necessaries and the letters of your holiness, along with those of others. And so we have received the books of your most wise and religious soul, in which we have seen the image of an Apostle, the confidence of a Prophet, the teaching of truth, the doctrine of true faith, the way of heaven, the glory of martyrdom, the triumphs against the Arian heresy, the unimpaired tradition of our Fathers, the right rule of the Church’s order. O truly Lucifer, who according to your name bring the light of truth, and have set it on a candlestick to give light to all. For who, except the Arians, does not clearly see from your teaching the true faith and the taint of the Arians. Forcibly and admirably, like light from darkness, you have separated the truth from the subtlety and dishonesty of heretics, defended the Catholic Church, proved that the arguments of the Arians are nothing but a kind of hallucination, and taught that the diabolical gnashings of the teeth are to be despised. How good and welcome are your exhortations to martyrdom; how highly to be desired have you shown death to be on behalf of Christ the Son of the living God. What love you have shown for the world to come and for the heavenly life. You seem to be a true temple of the Saviour, Who dwells in you and utters these exact words through you, and has given such grace to your discourses. Beloved as you were before among all, now such passionate affection for you is settled in the minds of all, that they call you the Elijah of our times; and no wonder. For if they who seem to please God are called Sons of God, much more proper is it to give that name to the associates of the Prophets, namely the Confessors, and especially to you. Believe me, Lucifer, it is not you only who has uttered this, but the Holy Spirit with you. Whence comes so great a memory for the Scriptures? Whence an unimpaired sense and understanding of them? Whence has such an order of discourse been framed? Whence did you get such exhortations to the way of heaven, whence such confidence against the devil, and such proofs against heretics, unless the Holy Spirit had been lodged in you? Rejoice therefore to see that you are already there where also are your predecessors the martyrs, that is, among the band of angels. We also rejoice, having you as an example of valour, and patience, and liberty. For I blush to say anything of what you have written about my name , lest I should appear a flatterer. But I know and believe that the Lord Himself, Who has revealed all knowledge to your holy and religious spirit, will reward you for this labour also with a reward in the kingdom of the heavens. Since then you are such a man, we ask the Lord in prayer that you may pray for us, that in His mercy He may now deign to look down upon the Catholic Church, and deliver all His servants from the hands of persecutors; in order that all they too who have fallen on account of temporal fear may at length be enabled to raise themselves and return to the way of righteousness, led away from which they are wandering, poor people, not knowing in what a pit they are. In particular I ask, if I have said anything amiss, you would be good enough to overlook it, for from so great a fountain my unskilfulness has not been able to draw what it might have done. But as to our brethren, I ask you again to overlook my not having been able to see them. For truth itself is my witness that I wished and longed to compass this, and was greatly grieved at being unable. For my eyes ceased not from tears, nor my spirit from groaning, because we are not permitted even to see the brethren. But God is my witness, that on account of their persecution I have not been able to see even the parents whom I have. For what is there that the Arians leave undone? They watch the roads, observe those who enter and leave the city, search the vessels, go round the deserts, ransack houses, harass the brethren, cause unrest to everybody. But thanks be to God, in so doing they are more and more incurring the execration of all, and coming to be truly known for what your holiness has called them: slaves of Antichrist. And, poor wretches, hated as they are, they persist in their malice, until they shall be condemned to the death of their ancestor Pharaoh. Those with me salute your piety. Pray salute those who are with you. May God’s divine grace preserve you, mindful of us and ever blessed, worthily called man of God, servant of Christ, partner of the Apostles, comfort of the brotherhood, master of truth, and in all things most longed for.