Dear Arius

Constantine's "Dear Arius" Letter (333 CE)
A Political Analysis, P.R.F. Brown, 2008 CE

Web Publication by Mountain Man Graphics, Australia


A Political Analysis of a Nasty Letter

Also see ... 2009 Updated Analysis of this Letter

LETTER: Emperor Constantine to Arius
Type:   Early Arian Document (Urkunde) 34 (=AW III2 no. 27; CPG 2042)
Date:   333 CE
Source: Athanasius, Defense of the Nicene Definition 40 (TLG)
        Also found in Socrates, Church History 1.9.30
        and Gelasius, Church History 3.19.1
Trans:  Coleman-Norton, P.R.,
        Roman State and Christian Church, London:
        Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge
       (SPCK) 1966, #67.


Here follows one translation of the above letter recognised to have been authored by Constantine about the year 333 CE. We learn here that Arius was an ascetic priest, who had a great following particularly in Syria, where Constantine "thinks he maybe". Arius is on the run. He had left his mark on the council of Nicaea by remaining silent, and inconspicuous, but at the same time, articulating a number of simple dogmatic assertions which are preserved in the Nicaean "Oath". Since that time, Constantine informs us that Arius has been highly resourceful and industrious, and has authored biting anti-Constantinian (anti-Christian) polemic, in verse, which enjoyed much popular support. Arius is abused by Constantine, from one end of the letter to the other. Arius was the focal point of whatever fourth century resistance was offered against the implementation of Constantine's political and religious initiatives.

Recommended background reading, for interested parties, should include Constantine and the Problem of Anti-Pagan Legislation in the Fourth Century, Scott Bradbury, Classical Philology, Vol. 89, No. 2 (Apr., 1994), pp. 120-139, and the older, summary paper, Constantine's Prohibition of Pagan Sacrifice, T. D. Barnes, The American Journal of Philology, Vol. 105, No. 1 (Spring, 1984), pp. 69-72. See this list of external papers. In his book Arius: Heresy and Tradition, Rowan Williams describes this letter of Constantine as "extraordinary in its venom and abusiveness", dubbing Arius as "Ares, a god of war. Constantine refutes Arius' theology and "turns to sneering at Arius' wasted and ascetic appearance." The text of the letter follows, variously interspersed with editorial commentary related to the political issues being disclosed by the Emperor Constantine, who is best considered as a supreme imperial mafia thug, malevolent despot, and military supremacist. Arius is presented as an ascetic. It is a very uneven battle.

Constantine's Column [Left]: Provided to gain perspective on the very uneven battle between the successful military supremacist Constantine and the ascetic priest and logician, Arius of Alexandria, is the Column of Constantine (shown left).It could have been easily seen from the Sea of Marmara and the Bosphorus, and was completed at the dedication of "The City of Constantine", 11 May 330. It was constructed of nine drums of porphyry each 2.9 m in diameter, topped by a Corinth Capital. Its total height was more than thirty-six meters. The column was crowned with colossal bronze statue of Constantine, depicted wearing a crown of seven rays. (It may have been Pheidas' sculpture of Apollo Paropius from the Acropolis of Athens, recycled with bullneck's head. Some accounts describe Constantine holding a spear in the left hand, and a globe in the right hand. Data from The Emperor Constantine, by Hans A. Pohlsander. Historian John Julius Norwich writes that in the Column of Constantine, “Apollo, Sol Invictus and Jesus Christ all seem subordinated to a new supreme being—the Emperor Constantine.” When "The Boss" writes the following letter to Arius, this column has already been standing in "The City of Constantine" for some years. Enormously successful and despotic military man Constantine, and small wise and clever ascetic man Arius.

Constantine Augustus
to Arius
and to Arians.

(1.) A wicked interpreter is really an image and a statue of the Devil.
For as skilled sculptors mould him for an incitement to deception,
as if cunningly contriving a goodly appearance of beauty for him,
who by nature is absolutely most base, that he may destroy
miserable persons by offering error to them, in the same way, I think,
must act this fellow, to whom only this appears to be worthy of zeal:
namely, to proffer profusely the poisons of his own effrontery.

(2.) Therefore he introduces a belief of unbelief –
new and never yet at any time seen since men have been born.
Wherefore truly that does not seem at variance from the truth,
which long ago was described distinctly by the divine saying:
 “They are trusty for evil.”

(3.) For why can anyone say this:
that he who no longer desires to find any aid for alleviation
has lost the grace of taking advice?
Why, then, do I say: “Christ, Christ, Lord, Lord!”?

Why in the world do bandits injure us daily?
A certain harsh and violent audacity stands before us;
it roars, gnashing its teeth, deformed by dishonor,
and wounded by manifold accusations.
(4.) Of course, it, just as if scattered
by certain storms and waves of evils,
in the law and the proclamation about you
vomits pernicious words and in writing produces these,
which you, who do not at all coexist
with the Eternal Father of your origin,
have defined by cognition about yourself.

In short, it collects and gathers
certain terrible and lawless impieties,
now indeed agitating tongues, now again
uplifted by enthusiasm for miserable persons,
whom, when present for security,
it deceives and destroys.
(5.) But now I wish to examine
the character of its chief proponent.
For what says he? He says,

      “Either let us hold that, of which already
       we have been made possessors,
       or let it be done, just as we ourselves desire.”

He has fallen and in these matters he has fallen dead;
he says: “By treachery or cleverness of knavery” –
it makes no difference.

He considers holy only what has crept
into him through base thought.
He says: “We have the masses.”
(6.) Indeed, I myself shall advance a little farther,
that I may become a spectator of those wars of insanity.
I myself, I said, shall advance, I who have been
accustomed to end wars of senseless men.

Come now Ares Arius,? there is need for shields.
Do not do this, we beg; at least, then,
let Aphrodite’s intercourse detain you.

But really, would that, as you seem to fashion
the finest things for the masses, so it would be
our part to abound in piety toward Christ!

(7.) Look, I come again as a suppliant and,
though powerful in weapons in respect to the whole populace,
I do not wish to fight; but fortified by Christ’s faith,
I desire you both to be cured and to heal others.

(8.) Why, therefore, do you say
that you do these things,
which befit not your character?
But with what peace, tell me,
or encompassed with what abundance,
but rather, advanced with what rashness?

Oh, audacity worthy to be destroyed by thunderbolts!
For hear what he, writing with a pen distilling poison,
recently has explained to me. He says:

           “Thus we believe.”

Then I suppose, having added
I know not what certain things
somehow swaggeringly and quite accurately elaborated,
he, going farther, left unsaid nothing at all of bitterness,
but he opened the whole – as someone may say –
treasury of madness. He says:

            “We are expelled
             and they take from us
             permission to be admitted.”

(9.) But this is not at all
apposite to the matter;
turn your mind to what follows,
for I shall use his words.
He says:

      “We ask that, if the bishop of Alexandria
       remains in the same opinion,  hereafter
       it be granted to us –
       according to the law’s arrangement -
       to celebrate the lawful and indispensable
       services to God.”

(10.) Oh, terrible shamelessness,
which ought to be refuted thoroughly
by the zeal for truth!
For what has happened to please him,
this has been marked by conciseness of expression.
What do you say, foolish one?

Do you prepare to construct the disease
of your savage thought against me as a discord,
which is specious in our sight?

And do you hasten to destroy
the persons involved with you evil?
(11.)    "What, then,"
you say, “Shall I do,
         if none deems me
         worthy to be admitted?”

For this you often shout
from a profane throat.
But I shall speak against you:
Where have you shown a clear mark
and proof of your intelligence?

And this you ought to have disclosed
and to have established clearly for gods and men
- and especially when poisonous serpents
even then are by nature more savage,
when they know that they themselves
are found in recesses of dens.
(12.) But that is indeed
quite urbane of him:
that quite eagerly,
just as if under
a certain mask of modesty,
he pretends silence.

You indeed show yourself
tame and submissive
by the artifice of pretence;
you escape the notice of many,
when you within are full
of countless evils and plots.

But, oh, wretchedness!
As the Devil has desired,
so he had made Arius
a manufactory of iniquity for us.
(13.) Advancing now, tell me
the mark of your faith
and indeed not at all be silent.

Oh, you possessor of a mouth perverted
and a nature quickly roused to wickedness!
“Do you talk of one God?”

You have me of the same opinion; think so.
Do you say that the

  “the Word of his essence
   is the Word without beginning
   and without end?”

I acquiesce in this;
believe so.
(14.) If you add anything further, this I abrogate.
If you join anything to an impious separation,
I confess that I neither see nor perceive this.

If you accept

     “the body’s lodging
      in respect to the administration
      of divine operations,”

I do not reject it.
If you say that

    “the spirit of eternity was born
     in the pre-eminent Word,”

I receive it.
Who has known the Father, unless he who comes from the Father?
Whom has the Father known, unless him whom he has begotten
from himself eternally and without beginning?
You think that you ought to substitute a “foreign hypostasis,”
believing doubtless badly; I know that the plentitude of the Fathers
and the Sons pre-eminent and all-pervading power is one substance.
(15.) If, therefore, you detract from him,
from whom not yet ever anything
has been able to be separated
even by idle talkers’ process of thinking,
you pave the way for the marks of addition and,
in short, you determine the signs of inquiries for him,
to whom he had given entire eternity
for himself and uncorrupted intelligence
and his assigned belief in immortality
through both himself and the Church.

Discard then discard this silly transgression of the law,
you witty and sweet-voiced fellow, singing evil songs
for the unbelief of senseless persons.
(16.) Quite fittingly the Devil
has subverted you by his own wickedness;
and perhaps this seems pleasant to certain persons
(for thus you have persuaded yourself).
But it is in every way a destructive evil.

(17.) Come now, having departed from
your occupation with absurdities,
listen, good Arius, for I discourse with you.

Do you not understand that you have been
barred publicly from God’s church?
You are lost (be well assured),
unless, having regard for yourself,
you condemn your present folly.

But you will say that the masses act
with you and dispel your anxieties.
(18.) Lend your ears and listen a little,
impious Arius, and understand your folly.
O God, protector of all, may you be well –
disposed to what is being said,
if it should admit of faith!

For I, your man, holding to your propitious providence,
from the very ancient Greek and Roman writing
shall demonstrate clearly Arius’ madness,
which has been prophesied and predicted
three thousand years ago by the Erythraean sibyl.
(19.) For she indeed says:

“Woe to you, Libya, situated in maritime regions,
for there shall come to you a time, in which
with the people and your daughters you must be compelled
to undergo a terrible and cruel and very difficult crisis,
from which a judgment both of faith and of piety
in respect to all persons will be given,
but you will decline to extreme ruin, for you have dared to engulf the receptacle
of celestial flowers and to mangle it with a bite
and you have polluted it with iron teeth.”

(20.) What then, knave? Where in the world
do you admit that you are now?
There, obviously; for I have your letters,
which you have scraped
with the pen of madness toward me,
in which you say that all the Libyan populace
is of the same opinion with you –
doubtless in regard to salvation.

But if you shall deny that this is so,
I now call God to witness that truly
I send to Alexandria –
that you may perish more quickly –
the Erythraean Sibyl’s
very ancient tablet,
composed in the Greek tongue.
(21.) Are you, then, really blameless, gallows rogue?
Have you not, then, really perished, sorry fellow,
surrounded by such great horror?
We know, we know your undertaking;
what kind of anxiety,
what kind of fear troubles you,
wretched and miserable person,
has not escaped our notice.

Oh, the dullness of your wits, you profane person,
who do not restrain your soul’s sickness and helplessness,
who undermine the truth by varied discourses.
And, since you are such,
you are not ashamed to disparage us,
now refuting (as you indeed suppose),
now again admonishing (as if superior
in faith and in discourses),
a person from whom, of course,
wretched persons are eager
to procure aid for themselves,
(22.) although they ought neither to associate
with such a person nor, in short, to address him,
unless anyone thinks that
in this one’s rotten words and meters
is stored the hope of living uprightly.
(23.) But this is not so; indeed,
in very truth it is far from it.
Oh, your folly, as many of you
as associate with this person!
What madness, then, has compelled you
to endure this one’s bitter tongue and sight?
(24.) Well; but now I shall proceed
by my discourse against you yourself,
you fool in respect to your soul,
you wordy one in respect to your tongue,
you infidel in respect to your wits.

Grant to me a field for discussion
(I do not say one wide-spreading
and fit for horsemanship, but indeed
a circle easy to trace, not one decayed,
but firm and solid by nature),
you truly profane and basest
and dissembling person.

For I am excited to say these things;
but rather, having fasted a noose around you
and having entangled you by discussion,
I shall set you in the midst,
that all the people may observe well
your worthlessness.
(25.) But I shall proceed now to the matter itself.
Certainly, my hands have been cleansed.
Let us proceed, then, to invoke God with prayers:
rather, wait a little while.
Tell me, you very hasty one,
what God will you invoke for aid?
For I cannot keep myself quiet.
(26.) O Lord, you who have the supreme authority
over all things, O Father of singular power,
because of this profane person
your Church receives both reproaches
and griefs and also both wounds and pains.

Arius now adapts for you a place
(and very cleverly indeed),
in which, constituting – as I think –
a synod for himself,
by the law of adoption
he procures and preserves your Son Christ,
born from you, the bringer of our aid.
(27.) Hear, I entreat you,
this marvelous faith.
He thinks that you, Lord,
the principle of motion,
are demoted from your place.
He dares to circumscribe you
by a circle of a defined seat.
For where is not your presence?
Or where do all persons not perceive
your activity from your all-pervading laws?

For you yourself encompass all things
and it is not right to think of either
a place or anything else outside you.
Thus your power with activity is infinite.

(28.) Do you, God, then hear; do you,
all the people, pay attention.
For this fellow is shameless and useless,
who, having progressed to the height
both of wickedness and likewise
of lawlessness, pretends piety.

(29.) He says:

    “Away! I do not wish God to appear
     to be subject to suffering of outrages,
     and on this account I suggest
     and fabricate wondrous things indeed
     in respect to faith: that God,
     when he had made the newly born
     and the newly created essence of Christ,
     prepared aid for himself,
     as it seems indeed to me.
     For what you have taken from him,
     this you have made less.”

Is this, then, your faith,
spoiler and destroyer?
(30.) According to hypothesis do you accept
as a figment him who has condemned
the figments of the heathen?
Do you call foreign and – as it were –
a servant of duties him
who without reflection and reasoning,
in that he coexists
with the Father’s eternity,
perfected all things?

Now adapt, if indeed you dare,
adapt I say, to God
both precaution and hope of what will happen,
also reflection, reasoning, declaration
and articulation of considered judgment,
and, in short, delight, laughter, grief.
(31.) What then, do you say,
one more wretched than the wretched,
oh, truly an adviser of evil? Understand, if you can,
that in your very knavery
you are destroyed as a villain.

(32.) He says:

   “Christ has suffered for us.”

But I already have said that
he was sent in the form of a body.
He says:

  ” Truly; but it is necessary
    that we seem not to make him
    less in any respect.”

Then, mediator of wild beasts,
when you say these things,
are you not mad and clearly raving?

For, look, the world itself is a form
or at any rate is a figure;
and the stars indeed
have produced their images;
and, in short, the spirit
of this spheroidal circle
is an appearance of existing things
and – as it were – a figuration.

And, nevertheless,
God is present everywhere.

Where, therefore,
in God are outrages?
Or in what respect
is God made less?
(33.) Oh, you patricide of equity!
Consider, then conjecturing from yourself,
and conclude, if this seems to be a sin,
that God is present in Christ.

That fellow, then, has known well
the disgracefulness of his talk
and not slowly he brought
punishment on himself.
Moreover doubtless daily sins
are committed in the world – and,
nevertheless, God is present
and punishments are not delayed.

In this respect, then,
what diminution is made
in his power’s magnitude,
if punishments are perceived everywhere?
Nothing, I think.

(34.) For the mind
of the world is through God;
through him is all stability;
through him is all justice;
the faith of Christ is
without beginning from him.
In short, God’s law is Christ,
having through him boundlessness
and also endlessness.

(35.) But you appear to take
thought from your own self.
Oh, excessive madness!
Turn now to your own destruction
the Devil’s sword.

See, then, all see how he,
when pierced by the viper’s bite,
now produces lamentable sounds;
how his veins and muscles,
when attacked next by the venom,
evoke terrible pangs;
how his whole emaciated body has wasted away,
is full of squalor and filth and lamentations
and pallor and horror and myriad ills,
and has withered frightfully;
how odious and dirty
in his thicket of hair;
how wholly half-dead and
already exhausted in its glance;
how bloodless in his face
and wasted under anxiety;
how all things converging
at the same time upon him –
frenzy and madness and vanity –
through the long time
of the calamity have made him
both boorish and bestial.

(36.) For example, he does not perceive
in what bad state he is.
He says:

    “I am exalted with delight
     and I jump, leaping with joy,
     and I soar.”

And again quite youthfully he says:

    “Well, we have perished.”

(37.) And this indeed is true, for to you alone
wickedness bountifully has supplied its own enthusiasms;
and what had been bought for a great price,
this has been given very easily to you.
Come now, tell, where are your august consuls?

Wash yourself, then, in the Nile, if possible,
you fellow full of absurd insensibility;
and indeed you have hastened to disturb
the whole world by your impieties.

(38.) Do you understand that I,
the man of God,
already know all things?
But I am in doubt whether I ought
to remain or to depart,
for I no longer am able to
look upon this person and
I am ashamed at sin, Arius.

You have brought us into the light;
you have hurled yourself,
wretched one, into darkness.
This has appeared the end
of your labors.

(39.) But again I return thither.
You say that there is a multitude
of persons wandering about you.
That is likely, I think;
and take them, then, I say, take them,
for they have given themselves
to be eaten by wolves and by lions.

However, each one of these,
oppressed by additional payment
of ten capitation taxes
and by the expenses of these,
immediately will sweat, unless,
running as speedily as possible
to the salvation-bringing Church,
he has chosen the peace of love
through affection for harmony.

(40.) For no longer will they,
condemned for wicked complicity,
be deceived by you nor will they,
entangles in your abominable investigations,
continue to perish absolutely.

Your sophisms are clear
and known to all persons,
at all events for the future.

Nor indeed will you yourself
be able to accomplish anything,
but in vain will you contrive,
counterfeiting both fairness
and gentleness of discourses
and donning externally –
so to speak –
a mask of simplicity.

In vain will be all your artifice,
for straightway the truth
will circumvent you,
straightway the rain of divine power
– so to speak –
will quench your flames.

(41.) And, of course, the functions
of the public services will overtake
your associates and likeminded persons,
who have become liable to the senate,
unless indeed they, fleeing as speedily
as possible association with you,
accept in exchange
the uncorrupted faith.

(42.) But do you, iron-hearted man,
give to me an evidence of your purpose,
if you have faith in yourself,
and be strong in the strength of faith,
and you absolutely will
have a pure conscience.

Come to me, come, I say,
to a man of God;
believe that by my interrogations
I shall search your heart’s secrets;
and, if any madness shall seem to be in you,
I, after I having invoked divine grace,
shall heal your fairer than a model.

But if you shall appear to be healthy
in respect to spiritual matters,
I, after I have recognized the light
of the truth in you,
shall give thanks to God
and I shall rejoice with myself
for the sake of piety.

(43.) And by another hand:
May God guard you, beloved.

And this was executed by
Syncletius and Gaudentius, magistrians,
when Paterius was prefect of Egypt,
and was read in the palace.

Thesis | 2009 ANALYSIS OF THIS LETTER | Mountain Man