Dialog of Pope Liberius at his Trial by Emperor Constantius the Arian

The following conference took place during a persecution by the Arian Emperor Constantius. Pope Liberius was summoned to court because he refused to excommunicate St. Athanasius, who was one of the leaders of the opposition to Arianism. Theodoret indicates that pious men recorded this dialog around the time that it happened, and Theodoret put it into his Church History Book 2 Chapter 13 in order to preserve it for the future.

Dialog of Pope Liberius at his Trial by Emperor Constantius the Arian

Constantius — We have judged it right, as you are a Christian and the bishop of our city, to send for you in order to admonish you to abjure all connection with the folly of the impious Athanasius. For when he was separated from the communion of the Church by the synod the whole world approved of the decision.

Liberius — O Emperor, ecclesiastical sentences ought to be enacted with strictest justice: therefore, if it be pleasing to your piety, order the court to be assembled, and if it be seen that Athanasius deserves condemnation, then let sentence be passed upon him according to ecclesiastical forms. For it is not possible for us to condemn a man unheard and untried.

Constantius — The whole world has condemned his impiety; but he, as he has done from the first, laughs at the danger.

Liberius — Those who signed the condemnation were not eye-witnesses of anything that occurred; but were actuated by the desire of glory, and by the fear of disgrace at your hands.

The Emperor — What do you mean by glory and fear and disgrace?

Liberius — Those who love not the glory of God, but who attach greater value to your gifts, have condemned a man whom they have neither seen nor judged; this is very contrary to the principles of Christians.

The Emperor — Athanasius was tried in person at the council of Tyre, and all the bishops of the world at that synod condemned him.

Liberius — No judgment has ever been passed on him in his presence. Those who there assembled condemned him after he had retired.

Eusebius the Eunuch foolishly interposed— It was demonstrated at the council of Nicæa that he held opinions entirely at variance with the catholic faith.

Liberius — Of all those who sailed to Mareotis, and who were sent for the purpose of drawing up memorials against the accused, five only delivered the sentence against him. Of the five who were thus sent, two are now dead, namely, Theognis and Theodorus. The three others, Maris, Valens, and Ursacius, are still living. Sentence was passed at Sardica against all those who were sent for this purpose to Mareotis. They presented a petition to the council soliciting pardon for having drawn up at Mareotis memorials against Athanasius, consisting of false accusations and depositions of only one party. Their petition is still in our hands. Whose cause are we to espouse, O Emperor? With whom are we to agree and hold communion? With those who first condemned Athanasius, and then solicited pardon for having condemned him, or with those who have condemned these latter?

Epictetus the Bishop — O Emperor, it is not on behalf of the faith, nor in defence of ecclesiastical judgments that Liberius is pleading; but merely in order that he may boast before the Roman senators of having conquered the emperor in argument.

The Emperor (addressing Liberius)— What portion do you constitute of the universe, that you alone by yourself take part with an impious man, and are destroying the peace of the empire and of the whole world?

Liberius — My standing alone does not make the truth a whit the weaker. According to the ancient story, there are found but three men resisting a decree.

Eusebius the Eunuch — You make our emperor a Nebuchadnezzar.

Liberius — By no means. But you rashly condemn a man without any trial. What I desire is, in the first place, that a general confession of faith be signed, confirming that drawn up at the council of Nicæa. And secondly, that all our brethren be recalled from exile, and reinstated in their own bishoprics. If, when all this has been carried into execution, it can be shown that the doctrines of all those who now fill the churches with trouble are conformable to the apostolic faith, then we will all assemble at Alexandria to meet the accused, the accusers, and their defender, and after having examined the cause, we will pass judgment upon it.

Epictetus the Bishop — There will not be sufficient post-carriages to convey so many bishops.

Liberius — Ecclesiastical affairs can be transacted without post-carriages. The churches are able to provide means for the conveyance of their respective bishops to the sea coast.

The Emperor — The sentence which has once been passed ought not to be revoked. The decision of the greater number of bishops ought to prevail. You alone retain friendship towards that impious man.

Liberius — O Emperor, it is a thing hitherto unheard of, that a judge should accuse the absent of impiety, as if he were his personal enemy.

The Emperor — All without exception have been injured by him, but none so deeply as I have been. Not content with the death of my eldest brother , he never ceased to excite Constans, of blessed memory, to enmity against me; but I, with much moderation, put up alike with the vehemence of both the instigator and his victim. Not one of the victories which I have gained, not even excepting those over Magnentius and Silvanus, equals the ejection of this vile man from the government of the Church.

Liberius — Do not vindicate your own hatred and revenge, O Emperor, by the instrumentality of bishops; for their hands ought only to be raised for purposes of blessing and of sanctification. If it be consonant with your will, command the bishops to return to their own residences; and if it appear that they are of one mind with him who today maintains the true doctrines of the confession of faith signed at Nicæa, then let them come together and see to the peace of the world, in order that an innocent man may not serve as a mark for reproach.

The Emperor — One question only requires to be made. I wish you to enter into communion with the churches, and to send you back to Rome. Consent therefore to peace, and sign your assent, and then you shall return to Rome.

Liberius — I have already taken leave of the brethren who are in that city. The decrees of the Church are of greater importance than a residence in Rome.

The Emperor — You have three days to consider whether you will sign the document and return to Rome; if not, you must choose the place of your banishment.

Liberius — Neither three days nor three months can change my sentiments. Send me wherever you please.

Source: http://newadvent.org/fathers/27022.htm

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