Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Isaac Newton, as a legal expert,
on Athanasius' story-fable
concerning the case of murdering Arsenius /

Ο Ισαάκ Νέυτων, ως ειδικός νομικός,
αποφαινόμενος για την ιστορία-μύθο του Αθανασίου
περί της υπόθεσης δολοφονίας του Αρσενίου




Quest. 4
Whether it was a dead man's hand in a bag or the dead body of Arsenius which was laid before the Council of Tyre to prove that Arsenius was dead.

Quest. 4
 Whether it was Arsenius alive or  only his letter which Athanasius produced in the Council of Tyre to prove that he was not dead.

Quest. 5.
Whether the story of the dead man's hand & the living Arsenius was not feigned by Athanasius about 25 years after the time of the Council of Tyre.


Historians tell us that when Athanasius was accused  of  the death of Arsenius he represented that Arsenius was alive &  thereupon the accusers to prove that he was dead produced in the Council of Tyre a dead mans hand in a bag, repre{senting that it} was the hand of Arsenius  cut of by Athanasius for magical uses &  Athanasius confuted them by  setting the living Arsenius before the Council. & pulling out his two hands from under his cloak to let the Cou{ncil see that} n{either of his} hand{s were cut} off: a{t which the accusers of} Ath{anasius were} ashame{d & the}  Council {proceeded} no f{urther in} that ac{cusation} there {being some} among {them who} kn{ew Arsenius} Now the truth of this story I question  because I find it was unknown in the times next after the Council  ffor about 4 or 5 years after, (A. C. ) Athanasius  when he was ready to be expelled his Bishopric the second time, {ca}lled a Council at Alexandria of 90  Egyptian Bishops &  in their name wrote a  large elaborate {let}ter to all the world in his own defense against the  accusations proceedings in the Council of Tyre,   & seem to omit nothing that could be thought of in his be{half} yet say not one word of the dead mans hand nor of  Arsenius appearing {at} Tyre. Neither  is there any mention of these t{hings in} the letter which Pope Iulius about two yeares after wrote to the eastern Bishops from a Counc{il on} behalf of Athanasius  who was then amongst them. N{either are they men}tioned in his two  larger letters which Athanasius & an hundred Bishops of Egypt  together with 150 other Church Bishops convened in the Council of Sardica wr{iting} {illeg}  to the same purpose the one to the Church of Alexandria, the other {to all the Churches}.  <16r>   also these letters they talk  of Arsenius & say he was alive but they do not say that he  appeared alive  at Tyre tho that one thing had it been true would have  been more to the purpose than all the rest  which they say. They do not so much as say that they or any of the{m} had seen him {alive, or} that they had {any} witnesses of his {being} alive as they m{ight} (and surely would) have  done h{ad} he been seen al{ive} before all the {world} at Tyre.  But that which makes me  most doubt of the story is that I find it otherwise related {b}y Athanasius  & his friends in these very letters of the {C}ouncils  of Alexandria & Sardica:  For in these letters which being recorded by Athanasius himself in his second Apology as well as writ by him & his friends  of unquestionable authority)  they tell the story as if the a{ccus}ers produced before the Council not {a} dead man's hand but a dead {body} & Athanasius produced aga{inst them} not  {Arseni}us a{live but his} letter {only & the accusers were so far from being shamed that the Council not}withs{tanding the Letters} proce{eded to con}demn {Athanasius} for th{e murder}.

 the Council of Sardica in their letter to the Church of Alexandria tells us that the Council of Tyre commanded  the dead body of Arsenius to be laid before them. The words of the letter are these. They said & lamented that Athanasius had committed murder & killed one Arsenius a Meletian Bishop, which thing they bewailed with feigned  groans & fals tears {illeg}ἠξίουν του Ζωντος ὡς τεθνηκότος τὸ σωμα ἀποδοθηναι & commanded the BODY of him that lived as if if he had been dead to be brought before them.   < insertion from f 15v > {Bu}t their  falacies did not lye hid ffor all men knew that the man {did live} &  was  proved to be alive {vizt by his letter.}. And yet when these  versatile {men} saw their figments thus confuted (for Arsenius being alive has {shewn} that he was not killed nor dead) they would not thus acquiesce but {after}wards in the reign {[of} Constantius] added new  fals accusations to the old ones {that they} might again involve the mann in calumnies. So then < text from f 16r resumes >  So then it was not a  magical salted hand  but the whole preserved body of a dead man which the accusers of Athanasius laid before the Council. In cases of murder tis {usu}al to have dead bodies viewed for passing judgment upon them; & this was done in the Council, tha{t} by the features & other marks & wounds & testimo{ny} of those who knew Arsenius or had seen his bod{y}  at the time of the murder & buried it & d{ug} it up again the Council might be satisfied wheth{er} he was murdered & how. But it seems to  sham{e the} proceedings of the Council some Iugler (for I will not say sorcerer) has transformed the whole {body into a magical hand.}  And on the contrary by the same art the letter of Arsenius has been transformed into  Arsenius himself. ffor that Athanasius & his friends had no other evidence of Arsenius's being alive outside that letter, he & his Bishops in the Council {of} Alexandr{ia} <7r>   have plainly acknowledged in these words Athanasius, say they, was accused of killing one Arsenius & breaking the communion cup. But Arsenius  is alive & {in his letter} desires your communion,  & expects not other  testimonies that he should appear  alive, but he himself confesses that he lives, writing in his own letters to our fellow Bishop Athanasius whom they assert his murderer. Nor were the impious ashamed to affirm him the murderer of one who was in a remote place divided from us by journeys both by sea & land, living in a region at that time unknown to all men. Yea they studied to hide him & make him disappear when he suffered nothing. And as far as they were able they translated him into another world, being ready to kill him that either by his real or feigned murder they might kill A{tha}nasius. But thanks be to the divine providence {who suffers} nothing unjust to prosper but hath before the e{yes of all} men produced Arsenius living & openly detecting {their} {ca}lumny & deceipt. ffor he does not shun us as {his murderers} nor hate us as injurious to him (for he suffer{s no evil} from us:) but desires to communicate with us & {to be of our} number as his Letter shews: And yet notwithstanding this they proceeded against Athanasius & banished him a murderer. ffor it was not the Emperor Constantine {but} their calumnies  which banished him. Here you see tha{t Athanasius and his Bishops are} so far from pretending that Arsenius appeared alive {at} Tyre that on the contrary they insist  only upon {the} evidence of his letter & represent that no other {evidence} was to be expected & by consequence had no other{, & mag}nify this evidence so much as if God had thereby {produced} Arsenius alive before the eyes of all men, & {that} that notwithstanding this Letter the Council of {Tyre} proceeded against Athanasius & banished him {as a} murderer. This they wrote five years after the Cou{ncil of Tyre} when things were fresh in their memory & {contrary stories were not yet invented}

  <8r>  


So then this letter is the whole grownd of all that {co}nfidence wherewith Athanasius & his friends so consta{ntly} reported that Arsenius was alive. And thô they {tell us} sometimes that that they knew he was alive, or th{at they h}ad shewed that he was not dead, or that God {had produc}ed him  living & openly detecting the c{alumny} before the eyes of all men, yet they mean only {by his} letter. This evidence they magnify thus extra{vagantly} because they had no other. For had they kno{wn where} he was or where any witnesses were which had {seen} him they would have known of multitudes had he been seen by all the {world at Tyre} they would have sent for him or the witnesses & {had} them in readiness at their Councils to satisfy all their party & made  a greater noise about such evidence then about a Letter which no upright Cout of Iud{icature} would allow for any evidence at all. And yet I {cannot} find that in all their  endeavours to {over}throw the Council of Tyre they ever pret{ended to} have  so much as one living witnesse who had {seen} Arsenius alive   if the fable of {illeg} be excepted of which I shal speak presently. {So far are} the Egyptian Bishops from saying that any of them  or {any body} else had seen  Arsenius at Tyre that they insist {only on the} evidence of his letter & say that he expects {no other testimo}nies of his being alive, that is that he conte{nts himself with} having given them that testimony, & therefor{e they are not to} looke for any other. So far are they {from saying} that  he in person put the accusers to s{hame, or stopt the}  <9v>  proceedings of the Council upon this accusation, that on the contrary they say that the Council proceeded against Athanasius notwithstanding the evidence of the letter & banished him as a murderer: which deserves well to be noted. For in this one thing |  passage you have the concurrent testimony of both parties against his being seen alive in the Council that of Athanasius & his Egyptian Bishops in objecting nothing more then the letter of Arsenius against the proceedings of the Council; & that of the Eastern Bishops in proceeding on to condemn Athanasius for the murder. For in doing this they adjudged & declared that Arsenius was  murdered & by consequence not seen alive in the Council. Nor did they only adjudge & declare this in the Council but afterwards constantly persisted in it: as you may see in their Letter  from the Council of Antioch to Pope Iulius & in that which in their return from the Council of Sardica they wrote at Philippolis to all the world. And for my part I can {more} easily believe what both parties affirmed in that age before {newer} stories were invented: then that the Bishops of all the {east} should condemn Athanasius for merdering a man who {appeared alive} before them in the midst of the Council & owned himself to be Arsenius & be {able to} satisfy the Emperor Constantine & the eastern nations of {the justness} of  such a sentence. For upon Athanasius's appealing {from the} Council, the Emperor heard the cause over again  {between Atha}nasius & the Legates of the Council &  he {& the e}ast were satisfied in their proceedings.

{So} then the story of the dead man's hand & the living {Arsenius at} Tyre seems to be a fable unknown in those {times and} therefore invented afterwards. And I suspect Atha{nasius} to be the inventor of it because he tells it first of {any} man in his second Apology written in the Wildernesse {at} the same time that he broached the story of the death {illeg} For if he knew it to be fals (as he did if it {were so)} then he was not imposed upon by others, but told {it} upon others & so is the Author.



* Isaac Newton / Ισαάκ Νεύτων,
Paradoxical Questions concerning the morals & actions of Athanasius & his followers,
[Παράδοξα Ζητήματα αναφορικά με τα ήθη και τις πράξεις του Αθανασίου & των ακολούθων του],
written in the 1690s /
συγγραφέν τη δεκαετία του 1690,
The Newton Project, 2011.
[English/Αγγλικά, HTML]





See also: / Βλέπε επίσης:


* J.E. Force & S. Hutton (Eds.)
Newton and Newtonianism
(International Archives of the History of Ideas - Archives internationales d'histoire des idées),
Springer Netherlands, 2004,
Vol./Τόμ. 188, pp./σσ. 113-154.

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