Sacred Texts  Christianity  Early Church Fathers  Index  Previous  Next 

Chapter IX.—The Second Return of Saint Athanasius.

The emperor Constantius, having become acquainted with the plots formed against the bishops, wrote to the great Athanasius once, and twice, aye and thrice, exhorting him to p. 74 return from the West 499 . I shall here insert the second letter, because it is the shortest of the three.

Constantius Augustus the Conqueror to Athanasius.

“Although I have already apprised you by previous letters, that you can, without fear of molestation, return to our court, in order that you may, according to my ardent desire, be reinstated in your own bishopric, yet I now again despatch another letter to your gravity to exhort you to take immediately, without fear or suspicion, a public vehicle and return to us, in order that you may receive all that you desire.”

When Athanasius returned, Constantius received him with kindness, and bade him go back to the Church of Alexandria 500 . But there were some attached to the court, infected with the errors of Arianism, who maintained that Athanasius ought to cede one church to those who were unwilling to hold communion with him. On this being mentioned to the emperor, and by the emperor to Athanasius, he remarked, that the imperial command appeared to be just; but that he also wished to make a request. The emperor readily promising to grant him whatever he might ask, he said that those in Antioch 501 who objected to hold communion with the party now in possession of the churches wanted temples to pray in, and that it was only fair that one House of God also be assigned to them. This request was deemed just and reasonable by the emperor; but the leaders of the Arian faction resisted its being carried into execution, maintaining that neither party ought to have the churches assigned to them. Constantius on this was struck with high admiration for Athanasius, and sent him back to Alexandria 502 . Gregorius was dead, having met his end at the hands of the Alexandrians themselves 503 . The people kept high holiday in honour of their pastor; feasting marked their joy at seeing him again, and praise was given to God 504 . Not long after Constans departed this life 505 .



Athanasius had gone from Sardica to Naissus (in upper Dacia), and thence to Aquileia, where he was received by Constans. Ap. ad Const. §4, §3.


Athanasius went from Aquileia to Rome, where he saw Julius again, thence to Treves to the Court of Constans, and back to the East to Antioch, where the conversation about the “one church” took place. Soc. ii. 23; Soz. iii. 20.


i.e. the friends of Eustathius.


The more significant from the fact that Constantius affected a more than human impassibility. Cf. the graphic account of his entry into Rome “velut collo munito rectam aciem luminum tendens, nec dextra vultum nec læva flectebat, tanquam figmentum hominis: non cum rota concuteret nutans nec spuens aut os aut nasum tergens vel fricans manumve agitans visus est unquam.” Amm. Marc. xvi. 10.


About Feb. a.d. 345.


Oct. a.d. 346. Fest. Ind. The return is described by Gregory of Nazianzus (Orat. 21). Authorities, however, differ as to which return he paints.


i.e. was murdered by the troops of the usurper Magnentius at Illiberis (re-named Helena by Constantine, and now Elne, in Roussillon), a.d. 350.

Next: Third exile and flight of Athanasius.