It is doubtful, whether or not Arius was persuaded to sign the symbol at the Nicene Council; but at least he professed to receive it about five years afterwards. At this time Eusebius of Nicomedia had been restored to the favour of Constantine; who, on the other hand, influenced by his sister, had become less zealous in his adherence to the orthodox side of the controversy. An attempt was made by the friends of Arius to effect his re-admission into the Church at Alexandria. The great Athanasius was at this time Primate of Egypt; and in his instance the question was tried, whether or not the Church would adopt the secular principles, to which the Arians were willing to subject it, and would abandon its faith, as the condition of present peace and prosperity. He was already known as the counsellor of Alexander in the previous controversy; yet, Eusebius did not at once give up the hope of gaining him over, a hope which was strengthened by his recent triumph over the orthodox prelates of Antioch, Gaza, and Hadrianople, whom he had found means to deprive of their sees to make way for Arians.
Failing in his attempt at conciliation, he pursued the policy which might have been anticipated, and accused the Bishop of Alexandria of a youthful rashness, and an obstinate contentious spirit, incompatible with the good understanding which ought to subsist among Christians. Arius was summoned to Court, presented an ambiguous confession, and was favourably received by Constantine. Thence he was despatched to Alexandria, and was quickly followed by an imperial injunction addressed to Athanasius, in order to secure the restoration of the heresiarch to the Church to which he had belonged. "On being informed of my pleasure," says Constantine, in the fragment of the Epistle preserved by Athanasius, "give free admission to all, who are desirous of entering into communion with the Church. For if I learn of your standing in the way of any who were seeking it, or interdicting them, I will send at once those who shall depose you instead, by my authority, and banish you from your see."
It was not to be supposed, that Athanasius would yield to an order, though from his sovereign, which was conceived in such ignorance of the principles of Church communion, and of the powers of its Rulers; and, on his explanation, the Emperor professed himself well satisfied, that he should use his own discretion in the matter. The intrigues of the Eusebians, which followed, shall elsewhere be related; they ended in effecting the banishment of Athanasius into Gaul, the restoration of Arius at a Council held at Jerusalem, his return to Alexandria, and, when the anger of the intractable populace against him broke out into a tumult, his recall to Constantinople to give further explanations respecting his real opinions.
There the last and memorable scene of his history took place, and furnishes a fresh illustration of the clearness and integrity, with which the Catholics maintained the true principles of Church union, against those who would have sacrificed truth to peace. The aged Alexander, bishop of the see, underwent a persecution of entreaties and threats, such as had already been employed against Athanasius. The Eusebians urged upon him, by way of warning, their fresh successes over the Bishops of Ancyra and Alexandria; and appointed a day, by which he was to admit Arius to communion, or to be ejected from his see. Constantine confirmed this alternative. At first, indeed, he had been struck with doubts respecting the sincerity of Arius; but, on the latter professing with an oath that his tenets were orthodox, and presenting a confession, in which the terms of Scripture were made the vehicle of his characteristic impieties, the Emperor dismissed his scruples, observing with an anxiety and seriousness which rise above his ordinary character, that Arius had well sworn if his words had no double meaning; otherwise, God would avenge. The miserable man did not hesitate to swear, that he professed the Creed of the Catholic Church without reservation, and that he had never said nor thought otherwise, than according to the statements which he now made.
For seven days previous to that appointed for his re-admission, the Church of Constantinople, Bishop and people, were given up to fasting and prayer. Alexander, after a vain endeavour to move the Emperor, had recourse to the most solemn and extraordinary form of anathema allowed in the Church; and with tears besought its Divine Guardian, either to take himself out of the world, or to remove thence the instrument of those extended and increasing spiritual evils, with which Christendom was darkening. On the evening before the day of his proposed triumph, Arius passed through the streets of the city with his party, in an ostentatious manner; when the stroke of death suddenly overtook him, and he expired before his danger was discovered.
Under the circumstances, a thoughtful mind cannot but account this as one of those remarkable interpositions of power, by which Divine Providence urges on the consciences of men in the natural course of things, what their reason from the first acknowledges, that He is not indifferent to human conduct. To say that these do not fall within the ordinary course of His governance, is merely to say that they are judgments; which, in the common meaning of the word, stand for events extraordinary and unexpected. That such do take place under the Christian Dispensation, is sufficiently proved by the history of Ananias and Sapphira. It is remarkable too, that the similar occurrences, which happen at the present day, are generally connected with some unusual perjury or extreme blasphemy; and, though we may not infer the sin from the circumstance of the temporal infliction, yet, the commission of the sin being ascertained, we may well account, that its guilt is providentially impressed on the minds and enlarged in the estimation of the multitude, by the visible penalty by which it is followed. Nor do we in such cases necessarily pass any absolute sentence upon the person, who appears to be the object of Divine Visitation; but merely upon the particular act which provoked it, and which has its fearful character of evil stamped upon it, independent of the punishment which draws our attention to it. The man of God, who prophesied against the altar in Bethel, is not to be regarded by the light of his last act, though a judgment followed it, but according to the general tenor of his life. Arius also must thus be viewed; though, unhappily, his closing deed is but the seal of a prevaricating and presumptuous career.
Athanasius, who is one of the authorities from whom the foregoing account is taken, received it from Macarius, a presbyter of the Church of Constantinople, who was in that city at the time. He adds, "while the Church was rejoicing at the deliverance, Alexander administered the communion in pious and orthodox form, praying with all the brethren and glorifying God greatly; not as if rejoicing over his death, (God forbid! for to all men it is appointed once to die,) but because in this event there was displayed somewhat more than a human judgment. For the Lord Himself, judging between the threats of the Eusebians and the prayer of Alexander, has in this event given sentence against the heresy of the Arians; showing it to be unworthy of ecclesiastical fellowship, and manifesting to all, that though it have the patronage of Emperor and of all men yet that by the Church itself it is condemned."