Athanasius, Ad Ep. Aeg., 5, 18, 20, 21

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5. Attempt of Arians to substitute a Creed for the Nicene.

I heard during my sojourn in these parts (and they were true and orthodox brethren that informed me), that certain professors of Arian opinions had met together, and drawn a confession of faith to their own liking, and that they intend to send word to you, that you must either subscribe to what pleases them, or rather to what the devil has inspired them with, or in case of refusal must suffer banishment. They are indeed already beginning to molest the Bishops of these parts; and thereby are plainly manifesting their disposition. For inasmuch as they frame this document only for the purpose of inflicting banishment or other punishments, what does such conduct prove them to be, but enemies of the Christians, and friends of the devil and his angels? And especially since they spread abroad what they like contrary to the mind of that gracious Prince, our most religious Emperor Constantius. And this they do with great craftiness, and, as appears to me, chiefly with two ends in view; first, that by obtaining your subscriptions, they may seem to remove the evil repute that rests upon the name of Arius, and may escape notice themselves as if not professing his opinions; and again, that by putting forth these statements they may cast a shade over the Council of Nicæa , and the confession of faith which was then put forth against the Arian heresy. But this proceeding does but prove the more plainly their own maliciousness and heterodoxy. For had they believed aright, they would have been satisfied with the confession put forth at Nicæa by the whole Ecumenic Council; and had they considered themselves calumniated and falsely called Arians, they ought not to have been so eager to innovate upon what was written against Arius, lest what was directed against him might seem to be aimed at them also. This, however, is not the course they pursue, but they conduct the struggle in their own behalf, just as if they were Arius. Observe how entirely they disregard the truth, and how everything they say and do is for the sake of the Arian heresy. For in that they dare to question those sound definitions of the faith, and take upon themselves to produce others contrary to them, what else do they but accuse the Fathers, and stand up in defence of that heresy which they opposed and protested against? And what they now write proceeds not from any regard for the truth, as I said before, but rather they do it as in mockery and by an artifice, for the purpose of deceiving men; that by sending about their letters they may engage the ears of the people to listen to these notions, and so put off the time when they will be brought to trial; and that by concealing their impiety from observation, they may have room to extend their heresy, which, ‘like a gangrene 2 Timothy 2:17,’ eats its way everywhere.

18. If the Arians felt they were right, they would speak openly.

‘But,’ say they, ‘we are strong, and are able to defend our heresy by our many devices.’ They would have a better answer to give, if they were able to defend it, not by artifice nor by Gentile sophisms, but by the simplicity of their faith. If however they have confidence in it, and know it to be in accordance with the doctrines of the Church, let them openly express their sentiments; for no man when he has lighted a candle puts it under the bushel Matthew 5:15, but on the candlestick, and so it gives light to all that come in. If therefore they are able to defend it, let them record in writing the opinions above imputed to them, and expose their heresy bare to the view of all men, as they would a candle, and let them openly accuse the Bishop Alexander, of blessed memory, as having unjustly ejected Arius for professing these opinions; and let them blame the Council of Nicæa for putting forth a written confession of the true faith in place of their impiety. But they will not do this, I am sure, for they are not so ignorant of the evil nature of those notions which they have invented and are ambitious of sowing abroad; but they know well enough, that although they may at first lead astray the simple by vain deceit, yet their imaginations will soon be extinguished, ‘as the light of the ungodly Job 18:5,’ and themselves branded everywhere as enemies of the Truth. Therefore although they do all things foolishly, and speak as fools, yet in this at least they have acted wisely, as ‘children of this world Luke 16:8,’ hiding their candle under the bushel, that it may be supposed to give light, and lest, if it appear, it be condemned and extinguished. Thus when Arius himself, the author of the heresy, and the associate of Eusebius, was summoned through the interest of Eusebius and his fellows to appear before Constantine Augustus of blessed memory , and was required to present a written declaration of his faith, the wily man wrote one, but kept out of sight the peculiar expressions of his impiety, and pretended, as the Devil did, to quote the simple words of Scripture, just as they are written. And when the blessed Constantine said to him, ‘If you hold no other opinions in your mind besides these, take the Truth to witness for you; the Lord is your avenger if you swear falsely:’ the unfortunate man swore that he held no other, and that he had never either spoken or thought otherwise than as he had now written. But as soon as he went out he dropped down, as if paying the penalty of his crime, and ‘falling headlong burst asunder in the midst Acts 1:18.’

20. While they are friends of Arius, in vain their moderate words.

Now while such is their conduct, how can they claim credit for what they write? Had the opinions they have put in writing been orthodox, they would have expunged from their list of books the Thalia of Arius, and have rejected the scions of the heresy, viz. those disciples of Arius, and the partners of his impiety and his punishment. But since they do not renounce these, it is manifest to all that their sentiments are not orthodox, though they write them over ten thousand times. Wherefore it becomes us to watch, lest some deception be conveyed under the clothing of their phrases, and they lead away certain from the true faith. And if they venture to advance the opinions of Arius, when they see themselves proceeding in a prosperous course, nothing remains for us but to use great boldness of speech, remembering the predictions of the Apostle, which he wrote to forewarn us of such like heresies, and which it becomes us to repeat. For we know that, as it is written, ‘in the latter times some shall depart from the sound faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils, that turn from the truth ;’ and, ‘as many as will live godly in Christ shall suffer persecution. But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived.’ But none of these things shall prevail over us, nor ‘separate us from the love of Christ Romans 8:35,’ though the heretics threaten us with death. For we are Christians, not Arians ; would that they too, who have written these things, had not embraced the doctrines of Arius! Yea, brethren, there is need now of such boldness of speech; for we have not received ‘the spirit of bondage again to fearRomans 8:15,’ but God has called us ‘to liberty Galatians 5:13.’ And it were indeed disgraceful to us, most disgraceful, were we, on account of Arius or of those who embrace and advocate his sentiments, to destroy the faith which we have received from our Saviour through His Apostles. Already very many in these parts, perceiving the craftiness of these writers, are ready even unto blood to oppose their wiles, especially since they have heard of your firmness. And seeing that the refutation of the heresy has gone forth from you , and it has been drawn forth from its concealment, like a serpent from his hole, the Child that Herod sought to destroy is preserved among you, and the Truth lives in you, and the Faith thrives among you.

21. To make a stand for the Faith equivalent to martyrdom.

Wherefore I exhort you, keeping in your hands the confession which was framed by the Fathers at Nicæa, and defending it with great zeal and confidence in the Lord, be ensamples to the brethren everywhere, and show them that a struggle is now before us in support of the Truth against heresy, and that the wiles of the enemy are various. For the proof of a martyr lies not only in refusing to burn incense to idols; but to refuse to deny the Faith is also an illustrious testimony of a good conscience. And not only those who turned aside unto idols were condemned as aliens, but those also who betrayed the Truth. Thus Judas was degraded from the Apostolical office, not because he sacrificed to idols, but because he proved a traitor; and Hymenæus and Alexander fell away not by betaking themselves to the service of idols, but because they ‘made shipwreck concerning the faith 1 Timothy 1:19.’ On the other hand, the Patriarch Abraham received the crown, not because he suffered death, but because he was faithful unto God; and the other Saints, of whom Paul speaks , Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephtha, David and Samuel, and the rest, were not made perfect by the shedding of their blood, but by faith they were justified; and to this day they are the objects of our admiration, as being ready even to suffer death for piety towards the Lord. And if one may add an instance from our own country, you know how the blessed Alexander contended even unto death against this heresy, and what great afflictions and labours, old man as He was, he sustained, until in extreme age he also was gathered to his fathers. And how many beside have undergone great toil, in their teachings against this impiety, and now enjoy in Christ the glorious reward of their confession! Wherefore, let us also, considering that this struggle is for our all, and that the choice is now before us, either to deny or to preserve the faith, let us also make it our earnest care and aim to guard what we have received, taking as our instruction the Confession drawn up at Nicæa, and let us turn away from novelties, and teach our people not to give heed to ‘seducing spirits 1 Timothy 4:1,’ but altogether to withdraw from the impiety of the Arian madmen, and from the coalition which the Meletians have made with them.