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Introduction to Apologia Contra Arianos

Introduction to Apologia Contra Arianos

"This Apology," says Montfaucon, "is the most authentic source of the history of the Church in the first half of the fourth century. Athanasius is far superior to any other historians of the period, both from his bearing for the most part a personal testimony to the facts he relates, and from his great accuracy and use of actual documents. On the other hand, Rufinus, Socrates, Sozomen, Theodoret, must not be used without extreme caution, unless they adduce documents, which is seldom the case." The `Apology' is a personal defence by Athanasius against the charges laid against him by the Eusebian party, and does not directly concern matters of doctrine. After the Council of Nicaea, the Eusebian policy had been to oust the principal opponents from their sees on personal grounds, so as to pave the way for the abrogation of the Nicene formula. The attack upon Athanasius began in 331, but without success. It was renewed at Caesarea and Tyre in 334-335, and resulted in the exile of Athanasius to Treveri, 336. His return in 337 was followed by a Synod at Antioch which `deposed' him (close of 338), and by his expulsion in favour of Gregory (339). Then follow the intervention of Julius (339-340), and the Council of Sardica (343), which resulted in the eventual return of Athanasius in the autumn of 346. (The details are given more fully in the Prolegomena, ch. ii. §§4-6). After this latter date, and before the relapse of Valens and Ursacius which followed upon the death of Constans, Athanasius drew up a collection of documents in proof of his innocence, connecting them together by an explanatory narrative. (1) The charges against him related to events alleged to have occurred before the year 332 (extortion of money, subvention of the rebel Philumenus, the chalice of Ischyras, murder and mutilation of the bishop Arsenius): the principal evidence as to their falsehood was comprised in the proceedings of the Councils of Tyre and Jerusalem, and of the commission of enquiry sent by the assembled bishops to the Mareotis. (2) The judicial investigations which proved the innocence of Athanasius took place first at Rome under Julius, secondly at Sardica under Hosius; and were followed by the recognition of his innocence on the part of the Emperor Constantius, of bishops in various parts of the world, and lastly of some of his chief accusers.

The method of defence now adopted by Athanasius was firstly to show how complete that recognition had been: this he does by a series of documents from the eve of his departure to Rome down to the recantation of Ursacius and Valens soon after his return to Alexandria: these documents cover eight years (339-347) previous to the composition of the Apology (§§1-58). Having shewn the completeness of his acquittal, he next gives the evidence upon which it was based. Accordingly the second part (§§59-90) of the Apology deals with facts and documents earlier than those comprised in the first. Hence the inversion of chronological sequence (praeposterus ordo, Montf.) as between the two parts.

Referring the reader to the Prolegomena for a connected view of the history of which this Apology is the primary source, it will suffice for our present purpose to enumerate the documents quoted, with the briefest possible statement of their contents and bearing upon the general purpose of the work. It should be noted that while in the first part the documents follow one another in strict chronological order, those of the second part fall into groups within which the matters are arranged as best suits the argument, and not in order of time. In the following list the probable or approximate date of each document is given.

36. §85 (perhaps in 337, but possibly as early as 335). Order by Flavius Hemerius for the erection of a church for Ischyras.

The two concluding sections (89, 90) of the Apology are a postscript added during the troubles under Constantius (about 358, see Introd. to Hist. Ar.). He points to the sufferings which many bishops, including Hosius and Liberius, had endured rather than surrender his cause, as fresh evidence of their belief in his innocence. He refuses to see any detraction from the force of this argument in the fall of the two bishops mentioned.

The importance to the historian of this collection of documents need not be dwelt upon. If the charges in dispute seem trivial and even grotesque, they none the less illustrate the temper of the parties concerned, and the character of the controversy during the very important twenty years which end with the death of Constans and the reign of Constantius over the undivided Empire.

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