Early Church Fathers
Introduction to Apologia Ad Constantium
This address to the Emperor in defence against certain serious charges (see below) was completed about the time of the intrusion of George, who arrived at Alexandria on Feb. 24, 357. The main, or apologetic, part of the letter was probably composed before George's actual arrival, in fact at about the same date as the encyclical letter which immediately precedes; §§27 and following (see 27, note 2) forming an added expostulation upon hearing of the general expulsion of Catholic Bishops, and of the outrages134 at Alexandria. It is quite uncertain whether it ever reached the emperor; whether it did so or not, his attitude toward Athanasius was in no way affected by it. It had probably been begun with the idea of its being actually delivered in the presence of Constantius (see §§3, 6, 8, 16 `I see you smile,' 22), but, although by a rhetorical fiction the form of an oral defence is kept up to the end, the concluding sections (27, 32 init.) shew that any such idea had been renounced before the Apology was completed. The first 26 sections are directed to the refutation of four personal charges, quite different from those of the earlier period, rebutted in the Apology against the Arians. They were (1) that Athanasius had poisoned the mind of Constans against his brother (2-5). To this Ath. replies that he had never spoken to the deceased Augustus except in the presence of witnesses, and that the history of his own movements when in the West entirely precluded any such possibility. The third and fourth sections thus incidentally supply important details for the life of Athanasius. (2) That he had written letters to the `tyrant' Magnentius (6-13), a charge absurd in itself, and only to be borne out by forgery, but also amply disproved by his known affection toward Constans, the victim of the `tyrant.' (3) That he had (14-18) used the new church in the `Caesareum,' before it was completed or dedicated, for the Easter festival of 355 (Tillem. viii. 149). This Athanasius admits, but pleads necessity and precedent, adding that no disrespect was intended toward the donor, nor any anticipation of its formal consecration. (4) That he had disobeyed an imperial order to leave Alexandria and go to Italy (19-26, see esp. 19, n. 4, and Fest. Ind. xxvi. Constantius is at Milan July 21, 353-Gwatkin p. 292). This charge involves the whole history of the attempts to dislodge Athanasius from Alexandria, which culminated in the events of 356. He replies to the charge, that the summons in question had come in the form of an invitation in reply to an alleged letter of his own asking leave to go to Italy, a letter which, as his amanuenses would testify, he had never written. Of the later visit (355, Fest. Ind. xxvii.) of Diogenes, he merely says that Diogenes brought neither letter nor orders. Syrianus, he seems to allow, had verbally ordered him to Italy (Constantius was again at Milan,-Gwatkin ubi supra) but without written authority. As against these supposed orders, Ath. had a letter from the emperor (§23) exhorting him to remain at Alexandria, whatever reports he might hear. Syrianus had, at the urgent remonstrance of the clergy and people, consented to refer the matter back to Constantius (24), but without waiting to do this, he had suddenly made his famous night attack upon the bishop when holding a vigil service in the Church of Theonas. Thereupon Athanasius had set out for Italy to lay the matter before the emperor in person (27 init.). But on reaching, as it would seem, the Libyan portion of his Province, he was turned back by the news of the Council of Milan, and the wholesale banishment which followed. Here we pass to the second part of the Apology. He explains his return to the desert by the three reports which had reached him: first, that just mentioned; secondly, that of further military outrages, about Easter 356 (or possibly those of George in 357, see Apol. Fug. 6; the dear statements of Fest. Ind. and Hist. Aceph. compel us135 to place these in the latter year, although on a priori grounds we might have followed Tillem., Bright, &c., in placing them in 356), and of the nomination of George; thirdly, of the letters of Constantius to the Alexandrians and to the Princes of Abyssinia. He had accordingly gone into hiding, in fear, not of the Emperor, but of the violence of his officers, and as of bounden duty to all (32). He concludes with an outspoken denunciation of the treatment of the virgins, and by an urgent entreaty to Constantius `which supposes the imperial listener to be already more than half appeased' (Bright). The Apology is the most carefully written work of Athanasius, and `has been justly praised for its artistic finish and its rhetorical skill' as well as for the force and the sustained calmness and dignity of its diction. (So Montfaucon, Newman, Gwatkin, &c. Fialon, pp. 286, 292, gives some interesting examples of apparent imitation of Demosthenes in this and in the two following tracts.) But the violent contrast between its almost affectionate respectfulness and the chilly reserve of the Apol. pro Fuga, or still more the furious invective of the Arian History, is startling, and gives a prima facie justification to Gibbon, who (vol. 3, P. 87, Smith's Ed.) charges the great bishop with simulating respect to the emperor's face while denouncing him behind his back. But although the de Fuga (see introd. there) was written very soon after our present Apology, there is no ground for making them simultaneous, while its tone (see Ap. Fug. 26, note 7) is very different from that of the later Hist. Arian. Doubtless much of the material for the invectives of the latter was already ancient history when the tract before us was composed. But Constantius was the Emperor, the first personage in the Christian world, and Athanasius with the feeling of his age, with the memory of the solemn assurances he had received from the Emperor (§§23, 25, 27, Apol. Ar. 51-56, Hist. Ar. 21-24), would `hope all things,' even `against hope,' so long as there was any apparent chance of influencing Constantius for good; would hope in spite of all appearances that the outrages, banishments, and intrigues against the faith of Nicaea were the work of the officers, the Arian bishops, the eunuchs of the Court, and not of `Augustus' himself (see Bright, Introd. to this Apology, pp. lxiii.-lxv.).