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Introduction to Historia Arianorum

Introduction to Historia Arianorum

(Written 358.)

This History takes up the narrative from the admission of Arius to communion at the `dedication' synod of Jerusalem (adjourned Council of Tyre) in 335, as described in Apol. c. Ar. 84. It has been commonly assumed from its abrupt beginning (the tauta, referring to an antecedent narrative) that the History has lost its earlier chapters, which contained the story of Arianism ab ovo. Montfaucon suggests in fact that the copyists omitted the first chapters on account of their identity in substance with the great Apology. But this seems to require reconsideration. If the alleged missing chapters were different123 in form from the second part of the Apology, they would not have been omitted: for such repetitions of the same matter in other words are very frequent in the works of Athanasius: but if they were identical in form, they are not lost, and the conclusion is that the History was written with the express intention of continuing the Apology. The customary inference from the abrupt commencement of the History may be dismissed with a non sequitur. Such a commencement was natural under the circumstances: we may compare the case of Xenophon, whose `Hellenica' begin with the words Meta de tauta, ou pollaij hmeraij usteron ..., the reference being to the end of the history of Thucydides. The view here maintained is clinched by the fact that Athanasius at this very time reissued his Apology against the Arians with an appendix (§§89, 90) on the lapse of Hosius and Liberius124 .

The History of the Arians, then, is a complete work, and written to continue the narrative of the second part of the Apology. Bring in fact a manifesto against Constantius, it naturally takes up the tale just before his entry upon the scene as the patron of Arianism. The substantially Athanasian authorship of the History cannot be questioned. The writer occasionally, like many others ancient and modern, speaks of himself in the third person (references §21, note 5, see also Orat. i. 3); but in other places he clearly identifies himself with Athanasius. The only passage which appears to distinguish the writer from Athanasius (§52, see note), may be due to the bishop's habitual (Apol. Canst. II) employment of an amanuensis, but more probably the text is corrupt; in any case the passage cannot weigh against the clear sense of §21. The immediate Athanasian authorship of the piece has been questioned partly on the ground of its alleged incompleteness, partly on that of several slight discrepancies with other writings. On this twofold ground it is inferred that the Arian History has passed through some obscure process of re-editing (Gwatkin, Studies, p. 99, §14 `dependent on the Vita [Antonii] 86,' p. 127, `not an uncorrupted work') by a later hand. I am quite unconvinced of this. The incompleteness of the work is, as I think I have shewn above, an unnecessary hypothesis, while the mistakes or inconsistencies may well be due to circumstances of composition. It was written in hiding, perhaps while moving from place to place, certainly under more pressure of highly wrought agitation and bitterness of spirit than any other work of Athanasius. The most accurate of men when working at leisure make strange slips at times (e.g. §13, note 4); the mistakes in the History are not more than one might expect in such a work. The principal are, §21 (see note 3), §14 (reference in note 8), §II, prin genesqai tauta (cf. Encycl. 5), §47 (inverting order of events in §39).

The date of the History is at first sight a difficulty. The fall of Liberius is dealt with in Part V., which must therefore have been written not earlier than 358 (the exact chronology of the lapse of Liberius is not certain), while yet in §4 Leontius, who died in the summer or autumn of 357, is still bishop of Antioch. We must therefore suppose that the History was begun at about the time when the Apologia de Fuga was finished (cf. the bitter conclusion of that tract) and completed when the lapse of Liberius was known in Egypt. A more accurate determination of date is not permitted by our materials.

The tract before us is in effect a fierce anonymous pamphlet against Constantius. Even apart from the references in the letters to the Monks and to Serapion (see below), the work bears clear marks of having been intended for secret circulation (for the practice, see Fialon, pp. 193-199). `Instead of the "pious" Emperor who was so well versed in Scripture, whose presence would gladden a dedication festival, whose well-known humanity forbade the supposition that he could have perpetrated a deliberate injustice, we find a Costyllius (or "Connikin") whose misdeeds could only be palliated by the imbecility which rendered him the slave of his own servant-inhuman towards his nearest of kin,-false and crafty, a Pharaoh, a Saul, an Ahab, a Belshazzar, more cruel than Pilate or Maximian, ignorant of the Gospels, a patron of heresy, a precursor of Antichrist, an enemy of Christ, as if himself, Antichrist, and-the words must be written-self-abandoned to the future doom of fire' (Bright, Introd. p. lxxviii., and see §§9, 30, 32, 34, 40, 45, 46, 51, 53, 67-70, 74, 80). There are certainly many passages which one could wish that Athanasius had not written,-one, not necessary to specify, in which he fully condescends to the coarse brutality of the age, mingling it unpardonably with holy things But Athanasius was human, and exasperated by inhuman vindictiveness and perfidy. If in the passages referred to he falls below himself, and speaks in the spirit of his generation, there are not wanting passages equal in nobility to anything he ever wrote. Once more to quote Dr. Bright: `The beautiful description of the Archbishop's return from his second exile, and of its moral and religious effect upon Alexandrian Church society (25), the repeated protests against the principle of persecution as alien to the mind of the Church of Christ (29, 33, 67), the tender allusion to sympathy for the poor as instinctive in human nature (63), the vivid picture-doubtless somewhat coloured by imagination-of the stand made by Western bishops, and notably for a time by Liberius, against the tyrannous dictation of Constantius in matters ecclesiastical (34 sqq. 76), the generous estimate of Hosius and Liberius in the hour of their infirmity (41, 45), the three golden passages which describe the union maintained by a common faith and a sincere affection between friends who are separated from each other (40), the all-sufficient presence of God with His servants in their extremest solitude (47), and the future joy when heaven would be to sufferers for the truth as a calm haven to sailors after a storm (79). It is in such contexts that we see the true Athanasius, and touch the source of his magnificent insuperable constancy' (p. lxxix.). Nothing could be more just, or more happily put. It ought to be noted before leaving this part of the subject, that the language put into the mouth of Constantius and the Arians (33 fin. 1, 3, 9, 12, 15, 30, 42, 45, 60), is not so much a report of their words as `a representation ad invidiam of what is assumed to have been in their minds.' Other instances of this are to be found in Athanasius (Ep. Aeg. 18, Orat. iii. 17), and he uses the device advisedly (de Syn. 7, middle).

The letter to Serapion on the death of Arius, and the letter to Monks, which in mss. and printed editions are prefixed to this treatise, will be found in the collection of letters below (No. 54 and 52). They have been removed from their time-honoured place in accordance with the general arrangement of this volume, though not without hesitation, and apart from any intention to dogmatise on the relation they bear to the present tract.

The `Arian History' has commonly been called the `Hist Arianorum ad Monachos,' or even the `Epistola ad Monachos;' even at the present day it is sometimes cited simply as `ad Monachos.' The History has derived this title from the fact, that in the Codices and editions, the Letter and History are frequently joined together without any sign of division. At the same time the correctness of this collocation is not entirely free from doubt.

Serapion (Letter 54 §1) had written to Athanasius asking for three things,-a history of recent events relating to himself, an expose of the Arian heresy, and an exact account of the death of Arius. The latter Athanasius furnishes in the letter just referred to. For the two former, he refers Serapion to a document he had written for the monks (aper egraya toij monaxoij), and which he now sends to Serapion. He begs Serapion at the end of his letter not on any account to part with the letters he has received, nor to copy them (he gave, he adds, the same directions to the monks, cf. Letter 52. 3), but to send them back with such corrections and additions as he might think desirable. He refers him to his letter to the monks for an explanation of the circumstances which render this precaution necessary. The monks (ib. 1) had apparently made the same request as Serapion afterwards made. It has been conjectured that the four `Orations' against Arianism, or the first three, are the treatise on the heresy addressed to the monks and subsequently sent to Serapion. But the description of that treatise egraya di oligwn (Letter 52. 1) is quite inapplicable to the longest treatise extant among the works of Athanasius. Still less, even if the Arian History were a fragment (see above), could we suppose that the accompanying treatise formed the missing first part. We must therefore acquiesce in the conclusion that the treatise in question has perished. Accordingly we cannot be sure (although it is generally regarded as highly probable125 ) that the historical portion is preserved to us in the `Arian History.' In any case the Letter to Monks is quite unconnected with it in its subject matter, and ends with the blessing, as the History does with the doxology, in the form of an independent document.

While admitting, therefore, the naturalness of the traditional arrangement, we may fairly treat the two as distinct, and permit the Arian History to launch the reader without preamble in medias res.

As the tract is long, and various in its subject-matter, the following scheme of contents may be found useful. It will be noted that chronological order is observed in Parts I.-IV. i.e. till 355, when the existing persecution of Constantius, the main theme of the History (Letter 52, §1), is reached. The history of this persecution is dealt with (Parts V.-VII.) with much more fulness, and is grouped round subjects each of which covers more or less the same period. Part VIII deals with the more recent events in Egypt.

§81 Appendix to §48. Second protest of the Church of Alexandria against the proceedings of Syrianus (356).

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