Chapter IX.—Council of Milan. Flight of Athanasius.
The emperor 1303 was extremely urgent to convene a council in Milan, yet few of the Eastern bishops repaired thither; some, it appears, excused themselves from attendance under the plea of illness; others, on account of the length and difficulties of the journey. There were, however, upwards of three hundred of the Western bishops at the council. The Eastern bishops insisted that Athanasius should be condemned to banishment, and expelled from Alexandria; and the others, either from fear, fraud, or ignorance, assented to the measure. Dionysius, bishop of Alba, the metropolis of Italy, Eusebius, bishop of Vercella in Liguria, Paulinus, bishop of Treves, Rhodanus, 1304 and Lucifer, were the only bishops who protested against this decision; and they declared that Athanasius ought not to be condemned on such slight pretexts; and that the evil would not cease with his condemnation; but that those who supported the orthodox doctrines concerning the Godhead would be forthwith subjected to a plot. They represented that the whole measure was a scheme concerted by the emperor and the Arians with the view of suppressing the Nicene faith. Their boldness was punished by an edict of immediate banishment, and Hilary was exiled with them. The result too plainly showed for what purpose the council of Milan had been convened. For the councils which were held shortly after at Ariminum and Seleucia were evidently designed to change the doctrines established by the Nicæan council, as I shall directly show.
Athanasius, being apprised that plots had been formed against him at court, deemed it prudent not to repair to the emperor himself, as he knew that his life would be thereby endangered, nor did he think that it would be of any avail. He, however, selected five of the Egyptian bishops, among whom was Serapion, bishop of Thumis, a prelate distinguished by the wonderful sanctity of his life and the power of his eloquence, and sent them with three presbyters of the Church to the emperor, who was then in the West. They were directed to attempt, if possible, to conciliate the emperor; to reply, if requisite, to the calumnies of the hostile party; and to take such measures as they deemed most advisable for the welfare of the Church and himself. Shortly after they had embarked on their voyage, Athanasius received some letters from the emperor, summoning him to the palace. Athanasius and all the people of the Church were greatly troubled at this command; for they considered that no safety could be enjoyed when acting either in obedience or in disobedience to an emperor of heterodox sentiments. It was, however, determined that he should remain at Alexandria, and the bearer of the letters quitted the city without having effected anything. The following summer, another messenger from the emperor arrived with the governors of the provinces, and he was charged to urge the departure of Athanasius from the city, and to act with hostility against the clergy. When he perceived, however, that the people of the Church were full of courage, and ready to take up arms, he also departed from the city without accomplishing his mission. Not long after, troops, called the Roman legions, which were quartered in Egypt and Libya, marched into Alexandria. As it was reported that Athanasius was concealed in the church known by the name “Theonas,” the commander of the troops, and Hilary, 1305 whom the emperor had again intrusted with the transaction of this affair, caused the doors of the church to be burst open, and thus effected their entrance; but they did not find Athanasius within the walls, although they sought for him everywhere. It is said that he escaped this and many other perils by the Divine interposition; and that God had disclosed this previously; directly as he went out, the soldiers took the doors of the church, and were within a little of seizing him.
Ruf. H. E. i. 19, 20; Athan. Hist. Arian. 31–46, and probably the lost letter of consecration addressed to the nuns; Theodoret, H. E. ii. 14, 15; Soc. ii. 36; Sulp. Sev. H. S. ii. 39.305:1304
Or, as Rufinus and Sulpicius Severus call him, Rhodanius. Socrates omits Rhodanius and Lucifer, and does not mention Hilary. Sozomen evidently used Rufinus. Rhodanius was bishop of Toulouse. Sulp. Sev. H. S. ii. 39.305:1305
The general was Syrianus; Hilary was notary to the Emperor Constantius, and was sent by him to expel Athanasius from Alexandria. On the whole passage, see Athan. Apol. ad Const. imp. 19–25; Apol. de fuga sua, 24.