Question 8

Whether the Letter of Arsenius was not feigned by Athanasius before the convening of the Council of Tyre.

This famous letter, pretended to be written by Arsenius after he had for some time lain hidden, runs thus.

To Athanasius the blessed Pope, Arsenius Bishop of the City Hypselita which was formerly under Meletius, & to the Presbyters & Deacons, much health in the Lord.

And we, loving peace & union with the Catholic Church which you by the grace of God are set over, & desiring to be subject to the ecclesiastical canon according to the ancient law: do write to you, beloved Pope, promising in the name of the Lord that we will not hence forward communicate with Schismatics & such as are not in peace with the Catholic Church whether they be Bishops or Presbyters or Deacons; neither will we assemble our selves with them in any Synod, nor send them letters of peace, nor receive such letters from them, nor without the advice & assent of you the Metropolitan Bishop make any decree about Bishops or about any other common ecclesiastical opinion; but we will give place to the received canons after the manner of Ammonianus, Tyrannus, Plusianus & the other Bishops.

Moreover we beseech your humanity therefore to write back to us as soon as may be, & also to our fellow Bishops concerning us, & show them that we now stand to the ancient decrees, being at peace with the Catholic Church, & united to our fellow Bishops of those regions. And we believe that by your prayers as being powerful this peace will remain firm & indissolvable to the end according to the will of God, the Lord of all things, through Jesus Christ our Lord. The whole Clergy that is under you, we & they that are with us salute, & so soon as God shall permit we will come to your humanity. I Arsenius wish you may long fare well, most blessed Pope.

Now the truth of this Letter I suspect, first because it has not the form & humour of a free letter but looks like some formal covenant of submission drawn up by a Lawyer to be imposed on Arsenius, or like a recantation imposed on him by a magistrate.

Then because Arsenius, had he been of the mind here expressed, would certainly have made good his promise of coming to Athanasius. He would not have suffered the whole Roman world for many years to continue in war & confusion about his death, but have speedily shown himself to the Emperor & to the world to the confusion of all the enemies of his dear friend Athanasius.

Thirdly because, were this letter genuine, Athanasius must have known how to write back to Arsenius & consequently knowing where he was, would have sent & fetched him by fair means or by foul & showed him alive to the Emperor.

Lastly because I find this letter directly contradicted by Athanasius himself.  For he, in his Apology page 783, tells the story of the hand after this manner. “Arsenius,” says he:

was first found hid in Egypt: afterwards those of our side found him hidden at Tyre. And, which is strange, when he was found he would not confess himself to be Arsenius until in judgment he was convicted by Paul, Bishop of Tyre. And from that time being ashamed he denied himself no more. Now he did that to keep the compact which he had made with the Eusebians, least he being found & discovered the plot should be laid open & dissolved.

This passage I say, wherein Arsenius is represented confederate with the Eusebians until the Council of Tyre, does absolutely contradict his letter wherein he is made to renounce that party & side with Athanasius before. Nor can it be pretended that Arsenius turned to & fro, seing Athanasius with his Bishops in the Council of Alexandria four or five years after the Council of Tyre, pleaded from this letter that Arsenius then desired their communion.

So then both these contradictious records cannot be true, or rather they must both be false, destroying one another.  For had Arsenius been discovered in such a manner at Tyre, then would not Athanasius & his Bishops a while after in the Council of Alexandria have collected & pleaded from his letter wrote before, that he did at that time desire their communion? And had the Letter been genuine Athanasius would not afterwards have overthrown the credit of it by telling that contrary story of Arsenius at Tyre.

But it seems his memory failed him.

Return to Newton on Athanasius table of contents.

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