Chapter X.—Third exile and flight of Athanasius.
Those who had obtained entire ascendency over the mind of Constantius, and influenced him as they pleased, reminded him that Athanasius had been the cause of the differences between his brother and himself, which had nearly led to the rupture of the bonds of nature, and the kindling of a civil war. Constantius was induced by these representations not only to banish, but also to condemn the holy Athanasius to death; and he accordingly despatched Sebastianus 506 , a military commander, with a very large body of soldiery to slay him, as if he had been a criminal. How the one led the attack and the other escaped will be best told in the words of him who so suffered and was so wonderfully saved.
Thus Athanasius writes in his Apology for his Flight:—“Let the circumstances of my retreat be investigated, and the testimony of the opposite faction be collected; for Arians accompanied the soldiers, as well for the purpose of spurring them on, as of pointing me out to those who did not know me. If they are not touched with sympathy at the tale I tell, at least let them listen in the silence of shame. It was night, and some of the people were keeping vigil, for a communion 507 was expected. A body of soldiers suddenly advanced upon them, consisting of a general 508 and five thousand armed men with naked swords, bows and arrows, and clubs, as I have already stated. The general surrounded the church, posting his men in close order, that those within might be prevented from going out. I deemed that I ought not in such a time of confusion to leave the people, but that I ought rather to be the first to meet the danger; so I sat down on my throne and desired the deacon to read a psalm, and the people to respond, For His mercy endureth for ever. Then I bade them all return to their own houses. But now the general with the soldiery forced his way into the church, and surrounded the sanctuary in order to arrest me. The clergy and the laity who had remained clamorously besought me to withdraw. This I firmly refused to do until all the others had retreated. I rose, had a prayer offered, and directed all the people to retire. It is better, said I, for me to meet the danger alone, than for any of you p. 75 to be hurt. When the greater number of the people had left the church, and just as the rest were following, the monks and some of the clergy who had remained came up and drew me out. And so, may the truth be my witness, the Lord leading and protecting me, we passed through the midst of the soldiers, some of whom were stationed around the sanctuary, and others marching about the church. Thus I went out unperceived, and fervently thanked God that I had not abandoned the people, but that after they had been sent away in safety, I had been enabled to escape from the hands of those who sought my life 509 .”
Probably Syrianus, who is described by Athanasius himself as sent to get him removed from Alexandria, but as denying that he had the written authority of Constantius. This was in Jan. a.d. 356.74:507
σύναξις. Cf. p. 52 note.74:508
Syrianus. Ath. Ap. ad Const. §25.75:509
Ath. Ap. de fug. §24.