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Chapter XXIII.—Calumny respecting St. Athanasius and the Hand of Arsenius.

The Melitians, on the failure of their first attempt, secretly concocted other indictments against Athanasius.11821182    Athan. Apol. cont. Arian. 63; Ruf. H. E. i. 15–17; Soc. i. 27. Independent workers of the same and other material. On the one hand they charged him with breaking a sacred chalice, and on the other with having slain one Arsenius, and with having cut off his arm and retained it for magical purposes. It is said that this Arsenius was one of the clergy,11831183    He was bishop of the city of Hypselitæ, according to the caption of his letter to Athan. See Apol. cont. Arian. 69. but that, having committed some crime, he fled to a place of concealment for fear of being convicted and punished by his bishop. The enemies of Athanasius devised the most serious attack for this occurrence. They sought Arsenius with great diligence, and found him; they showed him great kindness, promised to secure for him every goodwill and safety, and conducted him secretly to Patrines,11841184    Athan. calls him Pinnes, presbyter of a mansio (not monastery) of Ptemencyrceus. See his letter to John in the Apol. cont. Arian. 67. How did Soz. change this name to Patrines? a presbyter of a monastery, who was one of their confederates, and of the same interest as themselves. After having thus carefully concealed him, they diligently spread the report in the market-places and public assemblies that he had been slain by Athanasius. They also bribed John, a monk, to corroborate the accusation. As this evil report was universally circulated, and had even reached the ears of the emperor, Athanasius, being apprehensive that it would be difficult to defend his cause before judges whose minds were prejudiced by such false rumors, resorted to stratagems akin to those of his adversaries. He did everything in his power to prevent truth from being obscured by their attacks; but the multitude could not be convinced, on account of the non-appearance of Arsenius. Reflecting, therefore, that the suspicion which rested upon him could not be removed except by proving that Arsenius, who was said to be dead, was still alive, he sent a most trustworthy deacon in quest of him. The deacon went to Thebes, and ascertained from the declaration of some monks where he was living. And when he came to Patrines, with whom he had been concealed, he found that Arsenius was not there; for on the first intelligence of the arrival of the deacon he had been conveyed to Lower Egypt. The deacon arrested Patrines, and conducted him to Alexandria, as also Elias, one of his associates, who was said to have been the person who conveyed Arsenius elsewhere. He delivered them both to the commander of the Egyptian forces, and they confessed that Arsenius was still alive, that he had been secretly concealed in their house, and that he was now living in Egypt. Athanasius took care that all these facts should be reported to Constantine. The emperor wrote back to him, desiring him to attend to the due performance of the priestly functions, and the maintenance of order and piety among the people, and not to be disquieted by the machinations of the Melitians, it being evident that envy alone was the cause of the false indictments which were circulated against him and the disturbance in the churches. The emperor added that, for the future, he should not give place to such reports; and that, unless the calumniators preserved the peace, he should certainly subject them to the rigor of the state laws, and let justice have its course, as they had not only unjustly plotted against the innocent, but had also shamefully abused the good order and piety of the Church. Such was the strain of the emperor’s letter to Athanasius; and he further commanded that it should be read aloud before the public, in order that they might all be made acquainted with his intentions. The Melitians were alarmed at these menaces, and became more quiet for a while, because they viewed with anxiety the threat of the ruler. The churches throughout Egypt enjoyed profound peace, and, directed by the presidency of this great priest, it daily increased in numbers by the conversion of multitudes of pagans and other heretics.


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