Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series II/Volume V/Dogmatic Treatises/Against Eunomius/Book I/Chapter 6
§6. A notice of Aetius, Eunomius’ master in heresy, and of Eunomius himself, describing the origin and avocations of each.
Verily this did great damage to our declamation-writer, or rather to his patron and guide in life, Aetius; whose enthusiasm indeed appears to me to have aimed not so much at the propagation of error as to the securing a competence for life. I do not say this as a mere surmise of my own, but I have heard it from the lips of those who knew him well. I have listened to Athanasius, the former bishop of the Galatians, when he was speaking of the life of Aetius; Athanasius was a man who valued truth above all things; and he exhibited also the letter of George of Laodicæa, so that a number might attest the truth of his words. He told us that originally Aetius did not attempt to teach his monstrous doctrines, but only after some interval of time put forth these novelties as a trick to gain his livelihood; that having escaped from serfdom in the vineyard to which he belonged,—how, I do not wish to say, lest I should be thought to be entering on his history in a bad spirit,—he became at first a tinker, and had this grimy trade of a mechanic quite at his fingers’ end, sitting under a goat’s-hair tent, with a small hammer, and a diminutive anvil, and so earned a precarious and laborious livelihood. What income, indeed, of any account could be made by one who mends the shaky places in coppers, and solders holes up, and hammers sheets of tin to pieces, and clamps with lead the legs of pots? We were told that a certain incident which befell him in this trade necessitated the next change in his life. He had received from a woman belonging to a regiment a gold ornament, a necklace or a bracelet, which had been broken by a blow, and which he was to mend: but he cheated the poor creature, by appropriating her gold trinket, and giving her instead one of copper, of the same size, and also of the same appearance, owing to a gold-wash which he had imparted to its surface; she was deceived by this for a time, for he was clever enough in the tinker’s, as in other, arts to mislead his customers with the tricks of trade; but at last she detected the rascality, for the wash got rubbed off the copper; and, as some of the soldiers of her family and nation were roused to indignation, she prosecuted the purloiner of her ornament. After this attempt he of course underwent a cheating thief’s punishment; and then left the trade, swearing that it was not his deliberate intention, but that business tempted him to commit this theft. After this he became assistant to a certain doctor from amongst the quacks, so as not to be quite destitute of a livelihood; and in this capacity he made his attack upon the obscurer households and on the most abject of mankind. Wealth came gradually from his plots against a certain Armenius, who being a foreigner was easily cheated, and, having been induced to make him his physician, had advanced him frequent sums of money; and he began to think that serving under others was beneath him, and wanted to be styled a physician himself. Henceforth, therefore, he attended medical congresses, and consorting with the wrangling controversialists there became one of the ranters, and, just as the scales were turning, always adding his own weight to the argument, he got to be in no small request with those who would buy a brazen voice for their party contests.
But although his bread became thereby well buttered he thought he ought not to remain in such a profession; so he gradually gave up the medical, after the tinkering. Arius, the enemy of God, had already sown those wicked tares which bore the Anomæans as their fruit, and the schools of medicine resounded then with the disputes about that question. Accordingly Aetius studied the controversy, and, having laid a train of syllogisms from what he remembered of Aristotle, he became notorious for even going beyond Arius, the father of the heresy, in the novel character of his speculations; or rather he perceived the consequences of all that Arius had advanced, and so got this character of a shrewd discoverer of truths not obvious; revealing as he did that the Created, even from things non-existent, was unlike the Creator who drew Him out of nothing.
With such propositions he tickled ears that itched for these novelties; and the Ethiopian Theophilus becomes acquainted with them. Aetius had already been connected with this man on some business of Gallus; and now by his help creeps into the palace. After Gallus had perpetrated the tragedy with regard to Domitian the procurator and Montius, all the other participators in it naturally shared his ruin; yet this man escapes, being acquitted from being punished along with them. After this, when the great Athanasius had been driven by Imperial command from the Church of Alexandria, and George the Tarbasthenite was tearing his flock, another change takes place, and Aetius is an Alexandrian, receiving his full share amongst those who fattened at the Cappadocian’s board; for he had not omitted to practice his flatteries on George. George was in fact from Chanaan himself, and therefore felt kindly towards a countryman: indeed he had been for long so possessed with his perverted opinions as actually to dote upon him, and was prone to become a godsend for Aetius, whenever he liked.
All this did not escape the notice of his sincere admirer, our Eunomius. This latter perceived that his natural father—an excellent man, except that he had such a son—led a very honest and respectable life certainly, but one of laborious penury and full of countless toils. (He was one of those farmers who are always bent over the plough, and spend a world of trouble over their little farm; and in the winter, when he was secured from agricultural work, he used to carve out neatly the letters of the alphabet for boys to form syllables with, winning his bread with the money these sold for.) Seeing all this in his father’s life, he said goodbye to the plough and the mattock and all the paternal instruments, intending never to drudge himself like that; then he sets himself to learn Prunicus’ skill of short-hand writing, and having perfected himself in that he entered at first, I believe, the house of one of his own family, receiving his board for his services in writing; then, while tutoring the boys of his host, he rises to the ambition of becoming an orator. I pass over the next interval, both as to his life in his native country and as to the things and the company in which he was discovered at Constantinople.
Busied as he was after this ‘about the cloke and the purse,’ he saw it was all of little avail, and that nothing which he could amass by such work was adequate to the demands of his ambition. Accordingly he threw up all other practices, and devoted himself solely to the admiration of Aetius; not, perhaps, without some calculation that this absorbing pursuit which he selected might further his own devices for living. In fact, from the moment he asked for a share in a wisdom so profound, he toiled not thenceforward, neither did he spin; for he is certainly clever in what he takes in hand, and knows how to gain the more emotional portion of mankind. Seeing that human nature, as a rule, falls an easy prey to pleasure, and that its natural inclination in the direction of this weakness is very strong, descending from the sterner heights of conduct to the smooth level of comfort, he becomes with a view of making the largest number possible of proselytes to his pernicious opinions very pleasant indeed to those whom he is initiating; he gets rid of the toilsome steep of virtue altogether, because it is not a persuasive to accept his secrets. But should any one have the leisure to inquire what this secret teaching of theirs is, and what those who have been duped to accept this blighting curse utter without any reserve, and what in the mysterious ritual of initiation they are taught by the reverend hierophant, the manner of baptisms, and the ‘helps of nature,’ and all that, let him question those who feel no compunction in letting indecencies pass their lips; we shall keep silent. For not even though we are the accusers should we be guiltless in mentioning such things, and we have been taught to reverence purity in word as well as deed, and not to soil our pages with equivocal stories, even though there be truth in what we say.
But we mention what we then heard (namely that, just as Aristotle’s evil skill supplied Aetius with his impiety, so the simplicity of his dupes secured a fat living for the well-trained pupil as well as for the master) for the purpose of asking some questions. What after all was the great damage done him by Basil on the Euxine, or by Eustathius in Armenia, to both of whom that long digression in his story harks back? How did they mar the aim of his life? Did they not rather feed up his and his companion’s freshly acquired fame? Whence came their wide notoriety, if not through the instrumentality of these men, supposing, that is, that their accuser is speaking the truth? For the fact that men, themselves illustrious, as our writer owns, deigned to fight with those who had as yet found no means of being known naturally gave the actual start to the ambitious thoughts of those who were to be pitted against these reputed heroes; and a veil was thereby thrown over their humble antecedents. They in fact owed their subsequent notoriety to this,—a thing detestable indeed to a reflecting mind which would never choose to rest fame upon an evil deed, but the acme of bliss to characters such as these. They tell of one in the province of Asia, amongst the obscurest and the basest, who longed to make a name in Ephesus; some great and brilliant achievement being quite beyond his powers never even entered his mind; and yet, by hitting upon that which would most deeply injure the Ephesians, he made his mark deeper than the heroes of the grandest actions; for there was amongst their public buildings one noticeable for its peculiar magnificence and costliness; and he burnt this vast structure to the ground, showing, when men came to inquire after the perpetration of this villany into its mental causes, that he dearly prized notoriety, and had devised that the greatness of the disaster should secure the name of its author being recorded with it. The secret motive of these two men is the same thirst for publicity; the only difference is that the amount of mischief is greater in their case. They are marring, not lifeless architecture, but the living building of the Church, introducing, for fire, the slow canker of their teaching. But I will defer the doctrinal question till the proper time comes.
- Probably the ‘Indian’ Theophilus, who afterwards helped to organize the Anomœan schism in the reign of Jovian.
- Gallus, Cæsar 350–354, brother of Julian, not a little influenced by Aetius, executed by Constantius at Flanon in Dalmatia. During his short reign at Antioch, Domitian, who was sent to bring him to Italy, and his quæstor Montius were dragged to death through the streets by the guards of the young Cæsar.
- The same phrase occurs again: Refutation of Eunomius’ Second Essay, p. 844: οἱ τῇ προυνίκου σοφί& 139· ἐγγυμνασθέντες· ἐξ ἐκείνης γὰρ δοκεῖ μοι τῆς παρασκευῆς τὰ εἰρημένα προενηνοχέναι· In the last word there is evidently a pun on προυνίκου; προφερὴς, in the secondary sense of ‘precocious,’ is used by Iamblichus and Porphyry, and προύνικος appears to have had the same meaning. We might venture, therefore, to translate ‘that knowing trick’ of short-hand: but why Prunicus is personified, if it is personified, as in the Gnostic Prunicos Sophia, does not appear. See Epiphanius Hæres. 253 for the feminine Proper name. The other possible explanation is that given in the margin of the Paris Edition, and is based on Suidas, i.e. Prunici sunt cursores celeres; hic pro celer scriba. Hesychius also says of the word; οἱ μισθοῦ κομίζοντες τὰ ὤνια ἀπὸ τῆς ἀγορᾶς, οὕς τινες παιδαριωνας καλοῦσιν, δρομεῖς, τραχεῖς, ὀξεῖς, εὐκίνητοι, γοργοί, μισθωτοί. Here such ‘porter’s’ skill, easy going and superficial, is opposed to the more laborious task of tilling the soil.
- For the baptisms of Eunomius, compare Epiphanius Hær. 765. Even Arians who were not Anomœans he rebaptized. The ‘helps of nature’ may possibly refer to the ‘miracles’ which Philostorgius ascribes both to Aetius and Eunomius. Sozomen (vi. 26) says, “Eunomius introduced, it is said, a mode of discipline contrary to that of the Church, and endeavoured to disguise the innovation under the cloak of a grave and severe deportment.”…His followers “do not applaud a virtuous course of life…so much as skill in disputation and the power of triumphing in debates.”