Chapter XX.—Athanasius again reinstated by the Letter of Constantius, and receives his See. The Arch-Priests of Antioch. Question put by Constantius to Athanasius. The Praise of God in Hymns.
When Constans was apprised of what had been enacted at Sardica, he wrote 1275 to his brother to request him to restore the followers of Athanasius and Paul to their own churches. As Constantius seemed to hesitate, he wrote again, and threatened him with war, unless he would consent to receive the bishops. Constantius, after conferring on the subject with the bishops of the East, judged that it would be foolish to excite on this account the horrors of civil war. He therefore recalled Athanasius from Italy, and sent public carriages to convey him on his return homewards, and wrote several letters requesting his speedy return. Athanasius, who was then residing at Aquilea, on receiving the letters of Constantius, repaired to Rome to take leave of Julius and his friends. Julius parted from him with great demonstrations of friendship, and gave him a letter addressed to the clergy and people of Alexandria, in which he spoke of him as a wonderful man, deserving of renown by the numerous trials he had undergone, and congratulated the church of Alexandria on the return of so good a priest, and exhorted them to follow his doctrines.
He then proceeded to Antioch in Syria, where the emperor was then residing. Leontius presided over the churches of that region; for after the flight of Eustathius, those who held heretical sentiments had seized the see of Antioch. The first bishop they appointed was Euphronius; to him succeeded Placetus; and afterwards Stephen. This latter was deposed as being unworthy of the dignity, and Leontius obtained the bishopric. Athanasius avoided him as a heretic, and communed with those who were p. 299 called Eustathians, who assembled in a private house. Since he found that Constantius was well disposed, and agreeable, and it looked as if the emperor would restore his own church to him, Constantius, at the instigation of the leaders of the opposing heresy, replied as follows: “I am ready to perform all that I promised when I recalled you; but it is just that you should in return grant me a favor, and that is, that you yield one of the numerous churches which are under your sway to those who are averse to holding communion with you.” Athanasius replied: “O emperor, it is exceedingly just and necessary to obey your commands, and I will not gainsay, but as in the city of Antioch there are many who eschew communion between the heterodox and ourselves, I seek a like favor that one church may be conceded to us, and that we may assemble there in safety.” As the request of Athanasius appeared reasonable to the emperor, the heterodox deemed it more politic to keep quiet; for they reflected that their peculiar opinions could never gain any ground in Alexandria, on account of Athanasius, who was able both to retain those who held the same sentiments as himself, and lead those of contrary opinions; and that, moreover if they gave up one of the churches of Antioch, the Eustathians, who were very numerous, would assemble together, and then probably attempt innovations, since it would be possible for them without risk to retain those whom they held. Besides, the heterodox perceived that, although the government of the churches was in their hands, all the clergy and people did not conform to their doctrines. 1276 When they sang hymns to God, they were, according to custom, divided into choirs, and, at the end of the odes, each one declared what were his own peculiar sentiments. Some offered praise to “the Father and the Son,” regarding them as co-equal in glory; others glorified “The Father by the Son,” to denote by the insertion of the preposition that they considered the Son to be inferior to the Father. While these occurrences took place, Leontius, the bishop of the opposite faction, who then presided over the see of Antioch, did not dare to prohibit the singing of hymns to God which were in accordance with the tradition of the Nicæan Synod, for he feared to excite an insurrection of the people. It is related, however, that he once raised his hand to his head, the hairs of which were quite white, and said, “When this snow is dissolved, there will be plenty of mud.” By this he intended to signify that, after his death, the different modes of singing hymns would give rise to great seditions, and that his successors would not show the same consideration to the people which he had manifested.
Athan. Apol. cont. Arian. 51–56; Hist. Arian. 15, 16; Ruf. i. 19; Soc. ii. 22, 23, who gives texts from Athanasius of the second letter of Constans (in part); those of Constantius to Athanasius; and Julius to the Alexandrians. Philost. iii. 13.299:1276
Here he uses Athan. Historia Arian. 28; Apol. de fuga sua, 26. Theodoret, too, in his sketch of Leontius, H. E. ii. 24, quotes briefly from Athan. Cf. Philost. iii. 13.