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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

St Athanasius the Great LIFE OF ST ANTHONY THE GREAT, Complete

Translated by Cardinal Newman.

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Introduction to Vita S. Antoni (13 Pages - Jump to the treatise)

The Life of St. Anthony is included in the present collection partly on account of the important influence it has exercised upon the development of the ascetic life in the Church, partly and more especially on the ground of its strong claim to rank as a work of Athanasius. If that claim were undisputed, no apology would be needed for its presence in this volume. If on the other hand its spurious and unhistorical character had been finally demonstrated, its insertion would be open to just objections. As it is, the question being still in dispute, although the balance of qualified opinion is on the side of the Athanasian authorship, it is well that the reader should have the work before him and judge for himself. To assist his judgment, it will be attempted in the following paragraphs to state the main reasons on either side. In doing so, I can honestly disclaim any bias for or against the Vita, or monasticism. Monasticism, with all its good and evil, is a great outgrowth of human life and instinct, a great fact in the history of the Christian religion; and whether its origin is to be put fifty years earlier or later (for that is the net value of the question at issue) is a somewhat small point relatively to the great problems which it offers to the theologian, the historian, and the moralist. But the point is at any rate worthy of careful and dispassionate examination. In attempting this, while holding no brief for either side, I may as well at once state my opinion on the evidence, namely that, genuine as are many of the difficulties which surround the question, the external evidence for the Vita is too strong to allow us to set it aside as spurious, and that in view of that evidence the attempts to give a positive account of the book as a spurious composition have failed.

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