Whether it was a dead man’s hand in a bag or the dead body of Arsenius which was laid before the Council of Tyre to prove that Arsenius was dead.
Whether it was Arsenius alive or only his letter which Athanasius produced in the Council of Tyre to prove that he was not dead.
Whether the story of producing the dead man’s hand and the living Arsenius in the Council of Tyre was not feigned by Athanasius about five & twenty years after the time of the Council of Tyre.
These three questions being of a kind I consider together as one. For Historians tell us that when Athanasius was accused of the death of Arsenius he represented that Arsenius was alive & thereupon the Accusers to prove that he was dead produced in the Council of Tyre a dead man’s hand in a bag representing that it was the hand of Arsenius cut off by Athanasius for magical uses & Athanasius confuted them by setting the living Arsenius before the Council & pulling out the man’s two hands from under his cloak to let the Council see that neither of his hands were cut off: at which the accusers of Athanasius were ashamed & the Council proceeded no further, in that accusation there being some among them who knew Arsenius.
And the truth of this story I question because I find it was unknown in the times next after the Council even to Athanasius himself as well as to others until he published it. For Athanasius about five years after the Council of Tyre — that is about the year 440, when he was ready to be expelled [from] his bishopric the second time — called a Council at Alexandria of 90 Egyptian bishops & in their name wrote a large, elaborate letter to all the world in his own defense against the accusations & proceedings in the Council of Tyre & seems to omit nothing that could be thought of in his behalf, & yet says not one word of the dead man’s hand, nor of Arsenius appearing alive at Tyre.
Neither is there any mention of these things in the letter which Pope Iulius about two years after wrote to the eastern bishops from a Council at Rome in behalf of Athanasius who was then amongst them.
Neither are they mentioned in the two large letters which Athanasius & the Bishops of his party, assembled about five years after, out of Egypt & all the west in the Council of Sardica, wrote to the same purpose, the one to the Church of Alexandria the other to all the Churches.
In all these letters they talk of Arsenius & say that he was alive but do not say that he appeared alive at Tyre, although that one thing — had it been true — would have been more to the purpose than all the rest which they say. They do not say that they or any of them had seen him alive, or that they had any witnesses of his being alive, as they might & surely would have done had he been seen alive before all the world at Tyre.
But that which makes me most doubt of the story is that I find it otherwise related by Athanasius & his friends in these very letters of the Councils of Alexandria & Sardica. For in these Letters, (which, being recorded by Athanasius himself in his second Apology as well as writ by him & his friends, are of unquestionable authority,) they tell the story as if the accusers produced before the Council not a dead man’s hand but a dead body: & Athanasius produced against them not Arsenius alive but his Letter only & the accusers were so far from being ashamed that the Council, nothwithstanding the Letter, proceeded to condemn Athanasius for the murder.
And first that it was a dead body, the Council of Sardica in their letter to the Church of Alexandria tells expressly in these words:
They [that is the Council of Tyre] said & lamented that Athanasius had committed murder & killed one Arsenius, a Meletian Bishop: which thing they bewailed with feigned groans & false tears, καὶ ἠξίουν του ζωντυς ὠς τεθνηκότος τὸ σωμα ἀποδοθηναι & commanded or desired the BODY of him that lived as if he had been dead to be brought before them. But their fallacies did not lie hid. For all men knew that the man did live & was proved to be alive [vizt by his letter.] And yet when these versatile men saw their figments thus confuted (for Arsenius being alive has [by his Letter] shewn that he was not killed nor dead) they would not thus acquiesce but [afterwards in the reign of Constantius] added new false accusations to the old ones, that they might again involve the man in calumnies.
So then it was not a magical salted hand but the the whole preserved body of a dead man which the accusers of Athanasius laid or desired to be laid before the Council. In cases of murder it’s usual to have dead bodies viewed for passing judgment upon them; & this was done in the Council that by the features & other marks & wounds & testimony of those who knew Arsenius or had seen his body at the time of the murder & buried it & dug it up again the Council might be satisfied whether he was murdered & how. But it seems, to sham the proceedings of the Council some Juggler (I will not say Sorcerer) has transformed the whole body into a magical hand.
And, on the contrary, by the same art the Letter of Arsenius has been transformed into Arsenius himself. For that Athanasius & his friends had no other evidence of Arsenius’s being alive besides that Letter, he & his Bishops in the Council of Alexandria have plainly acknowledged in these words. “Athanasius,” say they:
was accused of killing one Arsenius & breaking the communion cup. But Arsenius is alive & [in his Letter] desires your communion, & expects not other testimonies that he should appear alive, but he himself confesses that he lives, writing in his own letters to our fellow Bishop Athanasius whom they assert his murderer. Nor were the impious ashamed to affirm him the murderer of one who was in a remote place divided from us by journeys both by sea & land, living in a region at that time unknown to all men.
Yea they studied to hide him & make him disappear when he suffered nothing. And, as far as they were able, they translated him into another world, being ready to kill him that either by his real or feigned murder they might kill Athanasius. But thanks be to the divine providence who suffers nothing unjust to prosper but hath, before the eyes of all men, produced Arsenius living & openly detecting their calumny & deceipt. For he does not shun us as his murderers nor hate us as injurious to him (for he suffers no evil from us:) but desires to communicate with us & to be of our number as his Letter shows. And yet notwithstanding this, they proceeded against Athanasius & banished him as a murderer. For it was not the Emperor Constantine but their calumnies which banished him.
Here you see Athanasius & his Bishops are so far from pretending that he appeared alive at Tyre that, on the contrary, they insist only upon the evidence of his Letter & represent that no other evidence was to be expected, & by consequence had no other, & magnify this evidence so much as if God had thereby produced Arsenius alive before the eyes of all men: & complain that, notwithstanding this Letter, the Council of Tyre proceeded against Athanasius & banished him as a murderer: This they wrote five years after the Council of Tyre when things were fresh in their memory & contrary stories were not yet invented.
So then this Letter is the whole ground of all the confidence wherewith Athanasius & his friends so constantly reported that Arsenius was alive. And though they tell us sometimes that they knew he was alive, or that he had showed that he was not dead, or that God had produced him “living & openly detecting the calumny” “before the eyes of all men,” yet they mean only by his Letter.
This evidence they magnify thus extravagantly because they had no other for, had they known where he was or where any witnesses were which had seen him (as they would have known of multitudes had he been seen by all the world at Tyre), they would have sent for him or the witnesses & had them in readiness at their Councils to satisfy all their party, & made a greater noise about such evidence than about a letter which no upright Court of Judicature would allow for any evidence at all.
And yet I cannot find that, in all their endeavours to overthrow the Council of Tyre, they ever pretended to have so much as one living witness who had seen Arsenius alive. So far are the Egyptian Bishops from saying that any of them or any body else had seen Arsenius at Tyre, that they insist only on the evidence of his letter & say that he expects no other testimonies of his being alive, that is, that he contents himself with having given them that testimony & therefore they are not to look for any other. So far are they from saying that he in person put the accusers to shame, or stopped the proceedings of the Council upon this accusation, that on the contrary they say that the Council proceeded against Athanasius notwithstanding the evidence of the letter & banished him as a murderer, which deserves well to be noted.
For in this one passage you have the concurrent testimony of both parties against his being seen alive in the Council: that of Athanasius & his Egyptian Bishops in objecting nothing more then the letter of Arsenius against the proceedings of the Council & that of the eastern Bishops in proceeding on to condemn Athanasius for the murder. For in doing this they adjudged & declared that Arsenius was murdered & by consequence not seen alive in the Council. Nor did they only adjudge & declare this in the Council but afterwards constantly persisted in it, as you may see in their Letter from the Council of Antioch to Pope Iulius & in that which, in their return from the Council of Sardica, they wrote at Philippopolis to all the world.
And for my part I can more easily believe what both parties affirmed in that age before newer stories were invented; than that the Bishops of all the east should condemn Athanasius for murdering a man who appeared alive before them in the midst of the Council & owned himself to be Arsenius & was known by many there; & be able to satisfy the Emperor Constantine & the eastern nations of the justness of such a sentence. For, upon Athanasius’s appealing from the Council, the Emperor heard the cause over again between Athanasius & the Legates of the Council & he & the East were satisfied in their proceedings.
So then the story of the dead man’s hand & the living Arsenius at Tyre seems to be a fable unknown in those times & therefore invented afterwards. And I suspect Athanasius to be the inventor of it because he tells it first of any man in his second Apology, written in the wilderness at the same time that he broached the story of the death of Arius. For if he knew it to be false (as he did if it were so) then he was not imposed upon others, but told it to impose upon others, & so is the Author.