Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series II/Volume III/Theodoret/Ecclesiastical History/Book I/Chapter 28
Chapter XXVIII.—The Council of Tyre.
Arsenius was a bishop of the Meletian faction. The men of his party put him in a place of concealment, and charged him to remain there as long as possible. They then cut off the right hand of a corpse, embalmed it, placed it in a wooden case, and carried it about everywhere, declaring that it was the hand of Arsenius, who had been murdered by Athanasius. But the all-seeing eye did not permit Arsenius to remain long in concealment. He was first seen alive in Egypt; then in the Thebaid; afterwards he was led by Divine Providence to Tyre, where the hand of tragic fame was brought before the council. The friends of Athanasius hunted him up, and brought him to an inn, where they compelled him to lie hid for a time. Early in the morning the great Athanasius came to the council.
First of all a woman of lewd life was brought in, who deposed in a loud and impudent manner that she had vowed perpetual virginity, but that Athanasius, who had lodged in her house, had violated her chastity. After she had made her charge, the accused came forward, and with him a presbyter worthy of all praise, by name Timotheus. The court ordered Athanasius to reply to the indictment; but he was silent, as if he had not been Athanasius. Timotheus, however, addressed her thus: “Have I, O woman, ever conversed with you, or have I entered your house?” She replied with still greater effrontery, screaming aloud in her dispute with Timotheus, and, pointing at him with her finger, exclaimed, “It was you who robbed me of my virginity; it was you who stripped me of my chastity;” adding other indelicate expressions which are used by shameless women. The devisers of this calumny were put to shame, and all the bishops who were privy to it, blushed.
The woman was now being led out of the Court, but the great Athanasius protested that instead of sending her away they ought to examine her, and learn the name of the hatcher of the plot. Hereupon his accusers yelled and shouted that he had perpetrated other viler crimes, of which it was utterly impossible that he could by any art or ingenuity be cleared; and that eyes, not ears, would decide on the evidence. Having said this, they exhibited the famous box and exposed the embalmed hand to view. At this sight all the spectators uttered a loud cry. Some believed the accusation to be true; the others had no doubt of the falsehood, and thought that Arsenius was lurking somewhere or other in concealment. When at length, after some difficulty, a little silence was obtained, the accused asked his judges whether any of them knew Arsenius. Several of them replying that they knew him well, Athanasius gave orders that he should be brought before them. Then he again asked them, “Is this the right Arsenius? Is this the man I murdered? Is this the man those people mutilated after his murder by cutting off his right hand?” When they had confessed that it was the same individual, Athanasius pulled off his cloak, and exhibited two hands, both the right and the left, and said, “Let no one seek for a third hand, for man has received two hands from the Creator and no more.”
Even after this plain proof the calumniators and the judges who were privy to the crime, instead of hiding themselves, or praying that the earth might open and swallow them up, raised an uproar and commotion in the assembly, and declared that Athanasius was a sorcerer, and that he had by his magical incantations bewitched the eyes of men. The very men who a moment before had accused him of murder now strove to tear him in pieces and to murder him. But those whom the emperor had entrusted with the preservation of order saved the life of Athanasius by dragging him away, and hurrying him on board a ship.
When he appeared before the emperor, he described all the dramatic plot which had been got up to ruin him. The calumniators sent bishops attached to their faction into Mareotis, viz., Theognis, bishop of Nicæa, Theodorus, bishop of Perinthus, Maris, bishop of Chalcedon, Narcissus of Cilicia, with others of the same sentiments. Mareotis is a district near Alexandria, and derives its name from the lake Maria. Here they invented other falsehoods, and, forging the reports of the trial, mixed up the charges which had been shown to be false with fresh accusations, as if they had been true, and despatched them to the emperor.
- Here comes in the famous scene of the sudden apparition of Athanasius before Constantine. “The Emperor is entering Constantinople in state. A small figure darts across his path in the middle of the square, and stops his horse. The Emperor, thunderstruck, tries to pass on; he cannot guess who the petitioner can be. It is Athanasius, who comes to insist on justice, when thought to be leagues away at the Council of Tyre.” Stanley, Eastern Church, Lect. VII.
- Bishop of Neronias, or Irenopolis. Cf. p. 44, note.
- Marea or Maria, a town and lake of Lower Egypt, giving its name to the district: now lake Marrout.