Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary
Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary

Fathers of the Church

Personal Letter XLVII: Letter to the Church of Alexandria on the Same Occasion


In this letter Athanasius informs the Churches of the praise bestowed by the council on their courageous stand against the Arians and of the excommunication of the leaders of the heresy, Theodore, Valens, Ursacius and others. (Quasten)


Scipio Maffei published this letter in 1738 from a Latin manuscript in the Chapter Library of Verona. Scholars have long disagreed as to whether Athanasius is actually the author. Assuming the letter is genuine, it was written by Athanasius while he attended the synod of Serdica in 343. (Quasten)

by Athanasius in 343-344 | translated by Payne-Smith

ATHANASIUS to all the presbyters and deacons of the holy Catholic Church at Alexandria and the Parembola, brethren most beloved, greeting.

In writing this I must begin my letter, most beloved brethren, by giving thanks to Christ. But now this is especially fitting, since both many things and great, done by the Lord, deserve our thanks, and those who believe in Him ought not to be ungrateful for His many benefits. We thank the Lord therefore, who always manifests us to all in the faith, who also has at this time done many wonderful things for the Church. For what the heretical party of Eusebius and heirs of Arius have maintained and spread abroad, all the bishops who assembled have pronounced false and fictitious. And the very men who are thought terrible by many, like those who are called giants, were counted as nothing, and rightly so, for just as the darkness is illuminated when light comes, so, iniquity is unveiled by the coming of the just, and when the good are present, the worthless are exposed.

For you yourselves, beloved, are not ignorant what the successors of the ill-named heresy of Eusebius did, namely Theodore, Narcissus, Valens, Ursacius, and the worst of them all, George, Stephen, Acacius, Menophantus, and their colleagues, for their madness is manifest to all; nor has it escaped your observation what they committed against the Churches. For you were the first they injured, your Church the first they tried to corrupt. But they who did so many great things, and were as I said above, terrible to the minds of all, have been so frightened as to pass all imagination. For not only did they fear the Roman Synod, not only when invited to it did they excuse themselves, but, now also having arrived at Sardica, so conscience-stricken were they, that when they had seen the judges, they were astonished. So they fainted in their minds. Verily, one might say to them: 'Death, where is thy sting, Death, where is thy victory?' For neither did it go as they wished, for them to give judgment as they pleased; this time they could not over-reach whom they would. But they saw faithful men, that cared for justice, nay rather, they saw our Lord Himself among them, like the demons of old from the tombs; for being sons of falsehood, they could not bear to see the truth. So Theodore, Narcissus, and Ursacius, with their friends said as follows: 'Stay, what have we to do with you, men of Christ? We know that you are true, and fear to be convicted: we shrink from confessing cur calumnies to your face. We have nothing to do with you; for you are Christians, while we are foes to Christ; and while with you truth is powerful, we have learned to over-reach. We thought our deeds were hid; we did not think that we were now coming to judgment; why do you expose our deeds before their time; and by exposing us vex us before the day?' and although they are of the worst character and walk in darkness, yet they have learnt at last that there is no agreement between light and darkness, and no concord between Christ and Belial. Accordingly, beloved brethren, since they knew what they had done, and saw their victims ready as accusers, and the witnesses before their eyes, they followed the example of Cain and fled like him; in that they greatly wandered, for they imitated his flight, and so have received his condemnation. For the holy council knows their works; it has heard our blood crying aloud, heard from themselves the voices of the wounded. All the Bishops know how they have sinned, and how many things they have done against our Churches and others; and accordingly they have expelled these men from the Churches like Cain. For who did not weep when your letter was read? who did not groan to see whom those men had exiled? Who did not reckon your tribulations his own? Most beloved brethren, you suffered formerly when they were committing evil against you, and perhaps it is no long time since the war has ceased. Now, however, all the Bishops who assembled and heard what you have suffered, grieved and lamented just as you did when you suffered the injuries and they shared your grief at that time. ...

On account of these deeds then, and all the others which they have committed against the Churches, the holy general council has deposed them all, and not only has judged them aliens from the Church, but has held them unworthy to be called Christians. For how can men be called Christians who deny Christ? And how can men be admitted to church who do evil against the Churches? Accordingly, the holy council has sent to the Churches everywhere, that they may be marked among all, so that they who were deceived by them may now return to full assurance and truth. Do not therefore fail, beloved brethren; like servants of God, and professors of the faith of Christ, be tried in the Lord, and let not tribulation cast you down, neither let troubles caused by the heretics who plot against you make you sad. For you have the sympathy of the whole world in your grief, and what is more, it bears you all in mind. Now I think that those deceived by them will, when they see the severe sentence of the Council, turn aside from them and reject their impiety. If, however, even after this their hand is lifted up, do you not be astonished, nor fear if they rage; but pray and raise your hands to God, and be sure that the Lord will not tarry but will perform all things according to your will I could wish indeed to write you a longer letter with a detailed account of what has taken place, but since the presbyters and deacons are competent to tell you in person of all they have seen, I have refrained from writing much. One thing alone I charge you, considering it a necessity, that having the fear of the Lord before your eyes you will put Him first, and carry on all things with your wonted concord as men of wisdom and understanding. Pray for us, bearing in mind the necessities of the widows, especially since the enemies of truth have taken away what belongs to them. But let your love overcome the malice of the heretics. For we believe that according to your prayers the Lord will be gracious and permit me to see you speedily. Meanwhile you will learn the proceedings at the Synod by what all the Bishops have written to you, and from the appended letter you will perceive the deposition of Theodore, Narcissus, Stephen, Acacius, George, Menophantus, Ursacius and Valens. For Gregory they did not wish to mention: since they thought it superfluous to name a man who lacked the very name of bishop. Yet for the sake of those deceived by him they have mentioned his name, not that his name was worthy of mention, but in order that those deceived by him may learn his infamy and blush for the sort of man they have communicated with ... I pray that you may be preserved in the Lord, brethren most beloved and longed for.

Taken from "The Early Church Fathers and Other Works" originally published by Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co. in English in Edinburgh, Scotland, beginning in 1867. (NPNF II/IV, Schaff and Wace). The digital version is by The Electronic Bible Society, P.O. Box 701356, Dallas, TX 75370, 214-407-WORD.

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