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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

Life of St Athanasius the Great and Account of Arianism

By Archibald Robertson.

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128 Pages (Part I)

Id primum scitu opus est in proposito nobis minime fuisse ut omnia ad Arium Arianos aliosque haereticos illius aetatis itidemque Alexandrum Alexandrinum Hosium Marcellum Serapionem aliosque Athanasii familiares aut synodos spectantia recensere sed solummodo ea quae uel ad Athanasii Vitam pertinent uel ad eam proxime accedunt.--Montfaucon.

Athanasius was born between 296 and 298 [1] . His parents, according to later writers, were of high rank and wealthy. At any rate, their son received a liberal education. In his most youthful work we find him repeatedly quoting Plato, and ready with a definition from the Organon of Aristotle. He is also familiar with the theories of various philosophical schools, and in particular with the developments of Neo-Platonism. In later works, he quotes Homer more than once (Hist. Ar. 68, Orat. iv. 29), he addresses to Constantius a defence bearing unmistakeable traces of a study of Demosthenes de Corona (Fialon, pp. 286 sq. 293). His education was that of a Greek: Egyptian antiquities and religion, the monuments and their history, have no special interest for him: he nowhere betrays any trace of Egyptian national feeling. But from early years another element had taken a first place in his training and in his interest.

[1] He was unable to speak from memory of the events of the persecution of 303 (Hist. Ar. 64), but (de Incarn. 56. 2) had been instructed in religion by persons who had suffered as martyrs. This must have been before 311, the date of the last persecution in Egypt under Maximin. Before 319 he had written his first books 'against the Gentiles,' the latter of which, on the Incarnation, implies a full maturity of power in the writer, while the former is full of philosophical and mythological knowledge such as argues advanced education. But from several sources we learn that his election to the episcopate in 328 was impugned, at any rate in after years, on the ground of his not having attained the canonical age of thirty. There is no ground for supposing that this was true: but such a charge would not be made without some ground at least of plausibility. We must therefore suppose that on June 8, 328, he was not much beyond his thirtieth year. His parents, moreover, were living after the year 358 (see below, p. 562, note 6); allowing them over fourscore years at that date, we find in 298 a reasonable date for the birth of their son. We must remember that in southern climates mind and body mature somewhat more rapidly than with ourselves, and 'contra Gentes' and 'de Incarnatione' will scarcely appear precocious.

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