Athanasius 24900

Letter XLIX). \ILetter to Dracontius\i1 \I.\i Written a.d. 354 or 355.

I Am at a loss how to write. Am I to blame you for your refusal? or for having regard to the trials, and hiding for fear of the Jews2 ? In any case, however it may be, what you have done is worthy of blame, beloved Dracontius. For it was not fitting that after receiving the grace you should hide, nor that, being a wise man, you should furnish others with a pretext for flight. For many are offended when they hear it; not merely that you have done this, but that you have done it having regard to the times and to the afflictions which are weighing upon the Church. And I fear lest, in flying for your own sake, you prove to be in peril in the sight of the Lord on account of others. For if ‘he that offendeth one of the little ones, should rather choose that a mill stone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depths of the sea3 ,’ what can be in store for you, if you prove an offence to so many? For the surprising unanimity about your election in the district4 of Alexandria will of necessity be broken up by your retirement: and the episcopate of the district will be grasped at by many,—and many unfit persons, as you are well aware. And many heathen who were promising to become Christians upon your election will remain heathen, if your piety sets at nought the grace given you.

2. What defence will you offer for such conduct? With what arguments will you be able to wash away and efface such an impeachment? How will you heal those who on your account are fallen and offended? Or how will you be able to restore the broken peace? Beloved Dracontius, you have caused us grief instead of joy, groaning instead of consolation. For we expected to have you with us as a consolation; and now we behold you in flight, and that you will be convicted in judgment, and when upon your trial will repent it. And ‘Who shall have pity upon thee5 ,’ as the Prophet says, who will turn his mind to you for peace, when he sees the brethren for whom Christ died injured on account of your flight? For you must know, and not be in doubt, that while before your election you lived to yourself, after it, you live for your flock. And before you had received the grace of the episcopate, no one knew you; but after you became one, the laity expect you to bring them food, namely instruction from the Scriptures. When then they expect, and suffer hunger, and you are feeding yourself6 only, and our Lord Jesus Christ comes and we stand before Him, what defence will you offer when He sees His own sheep hungering? For had you not taken the money, He would not have blamed you. But He would reasonably do so if upon taking it you dug and buried it,—in the words which God forbid that your piety should ever hear: ‘Thou oughtest to have given my money to the bankers, that when I came I might demand it of them7 .’

3. I beseech you, spare yourself and us. Yourself, lest you run into peril; us, lest we be grieved because of you. Take thought of the Church, lest many of the little ones be injured on your account, and the others be given an occasion of withdrawing. Nay but it you feared the times and acted as you did from timidity, your mind is not manly; for in such a case you ought to manifest zeal for Christ, and rather meet circumstances boldly, and use the language of blessed Paul: ‘in all these things we are more than conquerors8 ;’ and the more so in that we ought to serve not the time, but the Lord9 . But if the organising of the Churches is distasteful to you, and you do not think the ministry of the episcopate has its reward, why, then you have brought yourself to despise the Saviour that ordered these things. I beseech you, dismiss such ideas, nor tolerate those who advise you in such a sense, for this is not worthy of Dracontius. For the order the Lord has established by the Apostles abides fair and firm; but the cowardice of the brethren shall cease10 .

4. For if all were of the same mind as your present advisers, how would you have become a Christian, since there would be no bishops? Or if our successors are to inherit this state of mind, how will the Churches be able to hold together? Or do your advisers think that you have received nothing, that they despise it? If so surely they are wrong. For it is time for them to think that the grace of the Font is nothing, if some are found to despise it. But you have received it, beloved Dracontius; do not tolerate your advisers nor deceive yourself. For this will be required of you by the God who gave it. Have you not heard the Apostle say, ‘Neglect not the gift that is in thee11 ?’ or have you not read how he accepts the man that had doubled his money, while he condemned the one that had hidden it? But may it come to pass that you may quickly return, in order that you too may be one of those who are praised. Or tell me, whom do your advisers wish you to imitate? For we ought to walk by the standard of the saints and the fathers, and imitate them, and to be sure that if we depart from them we put ourselves also out of their fellowship. Whom then do they wish you to imitate? The one who hesitated, and while wishing to follow, delayed it and took counsel because of his family12 , or blessed Paul, who, the moment the stewardship was entrusted to him, ‘straightway conferred not with flesh and blood13 ?’ For although he said, ‘I am not worthy to be called an Apostle14 ,’ yet, knowing what he had received, and being not ignorant of the giver, he wrote, ‘For woe is me if I preach not the gospel15 .’ But, as it was ‘woe to me’ if he did not preach, so, in teaching and preaching the gospel, he had his converts as his joy and crown16 . This explains why the saint17 was zealous to preach as far as Illyricum, and not to shrink from proceeding to Rome18 , or even going as far as the Spains19 , in order that the more he laboured, he might receive so much the greater reward for his labour. He boasted then that he had fought the good fight, and was confident that he should receive the great crown20 . Therefore, beloved Dracontius, whom are you imitating in your present action? Paul, or men unlike him? For my part, I pray that you, and myself, may prove an imitator of all the saints.

5. Or possibly there are some who advise you to hide, because you have given your word upon oath not to accept the office it elected. For I hear that they are buzzing in your ears to this effect, and consider that they are thus acting conscientiously. But if they were truly conscientious, they would above all have feared God, Who imposed this ministry upon you. Or if they had read the divine Scriptures, they would not have advised you contrary to them. For it is time for them to blame Jeremiah also, and to impeach the great Moses, in that they did not listen to their advice, but fearing God fulfilled their ministry, and prophesying were made perfect. For they also when they had received their mission and the grace of Prophecy, refused. But afterwards they feared, and did not set at nought Him that sent them. Whether then you be of stammering utterance, and slow of tongue, yet fear God that made you, or if you call yourself too young to preach, yet reverence Him Who knew you before you were made. Or if you have given your word (now their word was to the saints as an oath), yet read Jeremiah, how he too had said, ‘I will not name the Name of the Lord21 ,’ yet afterwards he feared the fire kindled within him, and did not do as he had said, nor hid himself as if bound by an oath, but reverenced Him that had entrusted to him his office, and fulfilled the prophetic call. Or are you not aware, beloved, that Jonah also fled, but met with the fate that befel him, after which he returned and prophesied?

6. Do not then entertain counsels opposite to this. For the Lord knows our case better than we ourselves, and He knows to whom He is eatrusting His Churches. For even if a man be not worthy, yet let him not look at his former life, but let him carry out his ministry, lest, in addition to his life he incur also the curse of negligence. I ask you, beloved Dracontius, whether knowing this, and being a wise man, you are not pricked in your soul? Do you not feel anxious lest any of those entrusted to you should perish? Do you not burn, as with a fire in your conscience? Are you not in fear of the day of judgment, in which none of your present advisers will be there to aid you? For each shall give account of those entrusted to his hands. For how did his excuse benefit the man who hid the money? Or how did it benefit Adam to say, ‘The woman beguiled me22 ?’ Beloved Dracontius, even if you are really weak, yet you ought to take up the charge, lest, the Church being unoccupied, the enemies injure it, taking advantage of your flight. You should gird yourself up, so as not to leave us alone in the struggle; you should labour with us, in order to receive the reward also along with all.

7. Make haste then, beloved, and tarry no longer, nor suffer those who would prevent you: but remember Him that has given, and come hither to us who love you, who give you Scriptural advice, in order that you may both be installed by ourselves, and, as you minister in the churches make remembrance of us. For you are not the only one who has been elected from among monks, nor the only one to have presided over a monastery, or to have been beloved by monks. But you know that not only was Serapion a monk, and presided over that number of monks; you were not unaware of how many monks Apollos was father; you know Agathon, and are not ignorant of Ariston. You remember Ammonius who went abroad23 with Serapion. Perhaps you have also heard of Muitus24 in the upper Thebaid, and can learn about Paul25 at Latopolis, and many others. And yet these, when elected, did not gainsay; but taking Elisha as an example, and knowing the story of Elijah, and having learnt all about the disciples and apostles, they grappled with the charge, and did not despise the ministry, and were not inferior to themselves, but rather look for the reward of their labour, advancing themselves, and guiding others onward. For how many have they turned away from the idols? How many have they caused to cease from their familiarity with demons by their warning? How many servants have they brought to the Lord, so as to cause those who saw such wonders to marvel at the sight? Or is it not a great wonder to make a damsel live as a virgin, and a young man live in continence, and an idolater come to know Christ?

8. Let not monks then prevent you, as though you alone had been elected from among monks; nor do you make excuses, to the effect that you will deteriorate. For you may even grow better if you imitate Paul, and follow up the actions of the Saints. For you know that men like those, when appointed stewards of the mysteries, all the more pressed forward to the mark of their high calling26 . When did Paul meet martyrdom and expect to receive his crown, if not after being sent to teach? When did Peter make his confession, if not when he was preaching the Gospel, and had become a fisher of men27 ? When was Elijah taken up, if not after completing his prophetic career? When did Elisha gain a double share of the Spirit, if not after leaving all to follow Elijah? Or why did the Saviour choose disciples, if not to send them out as apostles?

9. So take these as an example, beloved Dracontius, and do not say, or believe those who say, that the bishop’s office is an occasion of sin, nor that it gives rise to temptations to sin. For it is possible for you also as a bishop to hunger and thirst28 , as Paul did. You can drink no wine, like Timothy29 , and fast constantly too, like Paul30 , in order that thus fasting after his example you may feast others with your words, and while thirsting for lack of drink, water others by teaching. Let not your advisers, then, allege these things. For we know both bishops who fast, and monks who eat. We know bishops who drink no wine, as well as monks who do. We know bishops who work31 wonders, as well as monks who do not. Many also of the bishops have not even married, while monks have been32 fathers of children; just as conversely we know bishops who are fathers of children and monks ‘of the completest kind33 .’ And again, we know clergy who suffer hunger, and monks who fast. For it is possible in the latter way, and not forbidden in the former. But let a man, wherever he is, strive earnestly; for the crown is given not according to position, but according to action.

10. Do not then suffer those who give contrary advice. But rather hasten and delay not; the more so as the holy festival is approaching; so that the laity may not keep the feast without you, and you bring great danger upon yourself. For who will in your absence preach them the Easter sermon? Who will announce to them the great day of the Resurrection, if you art in hiding? Who will counsel them, if you are in flight, to keep the feast fittingly? Ah, how many will be the better if you appear, how many be injured if you fly! And who will think well of you for this? and why do they advise you not to take up the bishop’s office, when they themselves wish to have presbyters34 ? For if you are bad, let them not associate with you. But if they know that you are good, let them not envy the others. For if, as they say, teaching and government is an occasion of sin, let them not be taught themselves, nor have presbyters, lest they deteriorate, both they and those who teach them. But do not attend to these human sayings, nor suffer those who give such advice, as I have often already said. But rather make haste and turn to the Lord, in order that, taking thought for his sheep, you may remember us also. But to this end I have bidden our beloved Hierax, the presbyter, and Maximus the reader go, and bid you by word of mouth also, that you may be able thus to learn both with what feelings I have written, and the danger that results from gainsaying the ordinance of the Church).

1 Dracontius, Bishop of Hermupolis Parva, was one of the bishops expelled from their sees, 356–7. His place of exile was the desert near ‘Clysma,’ i.e. the gulf of Suez (Hist. Ar. 75, cf. Hieron). Vit. Hilar. 30). We find him in 362 at the Council of Alexandria. The present letter, written to urge Dracontius not to refuse the Episcopate, was written just before Easter (§10), when persecution was expected (§3), and after the mission of Serapion, Ammonius and others to Constantius, a.d. 353. It was probably written, therefore, early either in 354 or 355. The letter is one of the masterpieces of Athanasius: its unforced warmth, vigour, and affection can fail to touch no one who reads it. It is, like the letter to Amun, one of our most important documents for the history of Egyptian Monasticism. (Migne xxv. 524 sqq.)
2 Cf.
Jn 3,2 Jn 19,38.
3 (Mt 18,6,
4 Hermupolis Parva was in the nome, or department, of Alexandria (anciently called the nome of Hermupolis in the Delta), and lay on a canal 44 miles east of the Capital; it is identified with Damanhur. Agathammon, a Meletian bishop of this ‘district,’ is mentioned in the list, Apol. Ar. 71, where the district of ‘Sais’ seems to include a much wider area than the ancient Saite nome (Maspero). Hist. Anc. 4, p. 24).
5 Jr 15,5.
6 Cf. Ez 34,2.
7 See Mt 25,27, and Lc 19,23. It is not clear whether by the ‘money’ received by Drac. is meant his actual consecration, or merely his election.
8 (Rm 8,37,
9 (Rm 12,11, and Westcott and Hort on various reading.
10 It should be observed that the fear of Dracontius was, not that he would suffer in dignity by becoming a bishop, but lest he should deteriorate spiritually (§8, init).. Cf. the dying soliloquy of Pope Eugenius IV.: ‘Gabriele, hadst thou never been Pope nor Cardinal it had been better for thy salvation.’ See also S. Bernard, de Consideratione.
11 (1Tm 4,14,
12 (Lc 2,61,
13 (Ga 1,16,
14 (1Co 15,9,
15 1Co 9,16.
16 1Th 2,19.
17 Reading tw agiw as proposed by Montf.
18 (Rm 1,15,
19 Rm 15,19 Rm 15,28.
20 (2Tm 4,7-8,
21 (Jr 20,9,
22 (Gn 3,12).
23 In 353, see Fest. Ind. xxv.; Sozom. 4,9.
24 Perhaps the ‘Muis’ of the Sardican subscriptions (Apol. Ar.) and the ‘Move’ of Vit. Pachom. c. 72.
25 Paulus, perhaps identical with the ‘Philo’ of Sard. subsc. and Vit. Pach. ubi supr. A ‘Philo’ and ‘Muius’ also occur close together in Apol. Fug. 7 (note 9).
26 (Ph 3,14,
27 (Mt 4,19,
28 (Ph 4,12,
29 (1Tm 5,23,
30 (2Co 11,27,
31 shmeia. At the end of §7 this word can only be rendered ‘wonders.’ But here it appears at least probable that it has the different sense of ‘miracles.’
32 Probably the reference is to married men who had subsequently become monks. Or else, as monks at this time lived in many cases in the world, not in communities, it may refer to married men leading an ascetic life.
33 ez oloklhrou genou".
34 This is not our earliest notice of ordained persons in monastic societies. see Apol. Ar. 67).

Letter L). \IFirst Letter to Lucifer\i1 \I.

To our lord, and most beloved brother the Bishop and Confessor Lucifer. Athanasius greeting in the Lord.

Being well in body by God’s favour, we have now sent our most beloved deacon Eutyches, that your most pious holiness, as is much desired by us, may be pleased to inform us of the safety of yourself and those with you. For we believe it is by the life of you Confessors and servants of God that the state of the Catholic Church is renewed; and that what heretics have assayed to rend in pieces, our Lord Jesus Christ by your means restores whole.

For although the forerunners of Antichrist have by the power of this world done everything to put out the lantern of truth, yet the Deity by your confession shews its light all the clearer, so that none can fail to see their deceit. Heretofore perhaps they were able to dissimulate: now they are called Antichrists. For who can but execrate them, and fly from their communion like a taint, or the poison of a serpent? The whole Church everywhere is mourning, every city groans, aged bishops are suffering in exile, and heretics dissembling, who while denying Christ have made themselves publicans, sitting in the Churches and exacting revenue2 . O new kind of men and of persecution which the devil has devised, namely to use such cruelty, and even ministers as the agents of evil. But although they act thus, and have gone all lengths in pride and blasphemy, yet your confession, your piety and wisdom, will be the very greatest comfort and solace to the brotherhood. For it has been reported to us that your holiness has written to Constantius Augustus; and we wonder more and more that dwelling as it were among scorpions you yet preserve freedom of spirit, in order, by advice or teaching or correction, to bring those in error to the light of truth. I ask then, and all confessors join me in asking, that you will be good enough to send us a copy; so that all may perceive, not by hearsay only but by letters, the valour of your spirit, and the confidence and firmness of your faith. Those who are with me salute your holiness. I salute all those who are with you. May the deity ever keep you safe and sound and mindful of us, most beloved lord, and true man of God.

1 Lucifer, bishop of Calaris (Cagliari) in Sardinia, exiled by Constantius after the Council of Milan (Prolegg. ch. 2,§7), first to Germanicia, then to Eleutheropolis in Palestine, at both of which places he was subjected to harsh treatment, lastly to the Thebaid. The violence of his advocacy of the Nicene faith, coupled with extreme personal abusiveness, may have aggravated his sufferings. On his part in the events of 362, see Prolegg. ch. 2,§9. The present letters exist only in Latin (Migne 26,1181), and are probably a translation from the Greek. Athan. may have known Latin, but there is no evidence that he ever wrote in that language. The play on the name Lucifer in Letter 51 proves nothing to the contrary. Dr. Bright (in D.C.B. 1,198, note) expresses a doubt as to the genuineness of our letters which is I think unsupported by internal evidence. The main difficulty is in the reconciliation of the apparent references (51 init). to the events of 356 as recent with the clear references to the de Athanasio and Moriendum pro Filio Dei of Lucifer, neither of which works were penned before 358, while the latter in its final form mentions the translation of Eudoxius to CP., and therefore falls as late as 360 (for proof of this, see Krüger, Lucifer, pp. 102–109). But on close examination, the language of Letter 51 is satisfied by the events of 359, the vindictive commission of Paul Catena and the search for Athanasius among the Monasteries (cf). Letter 53, note 1). The respectful reference to Constantius in Letter 50 is of a purely formal character. The reference to the parents of Athanasius as still living is of great interest as one of the very few notices of the family of the great bishop (Prolegg. ch. ii. §1). The agitated tone of the Epistles reminds us of the Arian History, and they may be set down to about the year 359. On Lucifer, the monograph of Krüger is the standard authority.
2 An exact description of George in 357 and 358.

Upon receiving this letter, blessed Lucifer sent the books which he had addressed to Constantius; and when he had read them Athanasius sent the following letter:

Letter LI). \ISecond 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 works1 .’ 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 law2 .’ 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 myself3 .’ 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 subtilty 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 shewn death to be on behalf of Christ the Son of the living God4 . What love you have shewn 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 name5 , 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 have6 . 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).

1 (
Ps 14,1,
2 (Is 1,4,
3 (1Co 4,4).
4 Lucifer had written among other books one called ‘Moriendum pro Dei Filio.’ His two books ‘pro sancto Athanasio’ are referred to below.
5 Lucifer’s two books pro Athanasio.
6 ‘Parentes quos habeo.’ Can this refer to literal parents? (1) he was now over 60 years old; (2) some 6 years later, under Valens, he hid, according to the tale in Socr. 4,13, for four months in his father’s tomb (see (Prolegg. ch. 2,§9)).

Letter LII). \IFirst Letter to Monks\i1 \I.\i (Written 358–360).

1. To those in every place2 who are living a monastic life, who are established in the faith of God, and sanctified in Christ, and who say, ‘Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed Thee3 ,’ brethren dearly beloved and longed for, heartiest greeting in the Lord.

1. In compliance with your affectionate request, which you have frequently urged upon me, I have written a short account of the sufferings which ourselves and the Church have undergone, refuting, according to my ability, the accursed heresy of the Arian madmen, and proving how entirely it is alien from the Truth. And I thought it needful to represent to your Piety what pains the writing of these things has cost me, in order that you may understand thereby how truly the blessed Apostle has said, ‘O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God4 ;’ and may kindly bear with a weak man such as I am by nature. For the more I desired to write, and endeavoured to force myself to understand the Divinity of the Word, so much the more did the knowledge thereof withdraw itself from me; and in proportion as I thought that I apprehended it, in so much I perceived myself to fail of doing so. Moreover also I was unable to express in writing even what I seemed to myself to understand; and that which I wrote was unequal to the imperfect shadow of the truth which existed in my conception.

2. Considering therefore how it is written in the Book of Ecclesiastes, ‘I said, I will be wise, but it was far from me; That which is far off, and exceeding deep, who shall find it out5 ?’ and what is said in the Psalms, ‘The knowledge of Thee is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it6 ;’ and that Solomon says, ‘It is the glory of God to conceal a thing7 ;’ I frequently designed to stop and to cease writing; believe me, I did. But lest I should be found to disappoint you, or by my silence to lead into impiety those who have made enquiry of you, and are given to disputation, I constrained myself to write briefly, what I have now sent8 to your piety. For although a perfect apprehension of the truth is at present far removed from us by reason of the infirmity of the flesh, yet it is possible, as the Preacher himself has said, to perceive the madness of the impious, and having found it, to say that it is ‘more bitter than death9 .’ Wherefore for this reason, as perceiving this and able to find it out, I have written, knowing that to the faithful the detection of impiety is a sufficient information wherein piety consists. For although it be impossible to comprehend what God is, yet it is possible to say what He is not10 . And we know that He is not as man; and that it is not lawful to conceive of any originated nature as existing in Him. So also respecting the Son of God, although we are by nature very far from being able to comprehend Him; yet is it possible and easy to condemn the assertions of the heretics concerning Him, and to say, that the Son of God is not such; nor is it lawful even to conceive in our minds such things as they speak, concerning His Godhead; much less to utter them with the lips.

3. Accordingly I have written as well as I was able; and you, dearly beloved, receive these communications not as containing a perfect exposition of the Godhead of the Word, but as being merely a refutation of the impiety of the enemies of Christ, and as containing and affording to those who desire it, suggestions for arriving at a pious and sound faith in Christ. And if in anything they are defective (and I think they are defective in all respects), pardon it with a pure conscience, and only receive favourably the boldness of my good intentions in support of godliness. For an utter condemnation of the heresy of the Arians, it is sufficient for you to know the judgment given by the Lord in the death of Arius, of which you have already been informed by others. ‘For what the Holy God hath purposed, who shall scatter11 ?’ and whom the Lord condemned who shall justify12 ? After such a sign given, who do not now acknowledge, that the heresy is hated of God, however it may have men for its patrons? Now when you have read this account, pray for me, and exhort one another so to do. And immediately send it back to me, and suffer no one whatever to take a copy of it, nor transcribe it for yourselves13 . But like good money-changers14 be satisfied with the reading; but read it repeatedly if you desire to do so. For it is not safe that the writings of us babblers and private persons should fall into the hands of them that shall come after. Salute one another in love, and also all that come unto you in piety and faith. For ‘if any man’ as the Apostle has said, ‘love not the Lord, let him be anathema. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you15 . Amen.’

1 This beautiful and striking Letter (Migne 25,691) formed the introduction to a work, which the Author, as he says in the course of it, thought unworthy of being preserved for posterity. Some critics have supposed it to be the Orations against the Arians; but this opinion can hardly be maintained (supr. p. 267). The Epistle was written in 358, or later, before the Epistle to Serapion. On its relation to the ‘Arian History,’ see above, pp. 267, 268.
2 This appears inconsistent with the directions below, §3 (note 3). The heading is, therefore, of doubtful genuineness.
3 (
Mt 19,27,
4 (Rm 11,33,
5 (Qo 7,23-24,
6 (Ps 139,6,
7 (Pr 25,2,
8 Probably a lost writing.
9 (Qo 7,26,
10 Newman observes in loc. “This negative character of our knowledge, whether of the Father or of the Son, is insisted on by other writers).
‘All we can know about the Divine Nature is, that it is not to be known; and whatever positive statements we make concerning God, relate not to His Nature, but to the accompaniments of His Nature.’ Damasc F.O. 1,4; S. Basil c. Eunom. 1,10, ‘Totum ab animo rejicite; quidquid occurrerit, negate …. dicite non est illud.’ August). Enarrat. 2). in Psalm 26,8.Cyril, Catech. 11,11. Anonym. in Append. Aug. Oper. t. 5. p. 383). [Patr. Lat. 39,2175.]

11 (Is 14,27,
12 (Rm 8,33-34, so quoted Ep. Aeg. 19.
13 Letter 54, fin).
14 “On this celebrated text, as it may be called, which is cited so frequently by the Fathers, vid. Coteler). in Const. Apol. 2,36. in Clement Hom. 2,51. Potter in Clem). Strom. i. p. 425. Vales. in Euseb). Hist. 7,7.” [Westcott, Introd. to Study of Gospels, Appendix C.]
15 (1Co 16,22-23,

Athanasius 24900