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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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It was in the Holy Scriptures that his martyr teachers had instructed him, and in the Scriptures his mind and writings are saturated. Ignorant of Hebrew, and only rarely appealing to other Greek versions (to Aquila once in the Ecthesis, to other versions once or twice upon the Psalms), his knowledge of the Old Testament is limited to the Septuagint. But of it, as well as of the New Testament, he has an astonishing command, 'Alexandreus to genei, aner logios, dunatos on en tais graphais. The combination of Scriptural study and of Greek learning was what one expects in a pupil of the famous Alexandrian School; and it was in this School, the School of Clement and Origen, of Dionysius and Theognostus, that young Athanasius learned, possibly at first from the lips of Peter the bishop and martyr of 311 [2] . The influence of Origen still coloured the traditions of the theological school of Alexandria. It was from Alexander, Bishop of Alexandria 312-328, himself an Origenist 'of the right wing,' that Athanasius received his moulding at the critical period of his later teens.

Of his first introduction to Alexander a famous story is told by Rufinus (Hist. Eccl. I. xiv.). The Bishop, on the anniversary of the martyrdom of his predecessor, Peter, was expecting some clergy to dinner after service in a house by the sea. Out of the window, he saw some boys at play on the shore: as he watched, he saw that they were imitating the sacred rites of the Church. Thinking at last that they were going too far, he sent some of his clergy to bring them in. At first his enquiries of the little fellows produced an alarmed denial. But at length he elicited that one of them had acted the Bishop and had baptized some of the others in the character of catechumens. On ascertaining that all details had been duly observed, he consulted his clergy, and decided that the baptisms should be treated as valid, and that the boy-bishop and his clergy had given such plain proof of their vocation that their parents must be instructed to hand them over to be educated for the sacred profession. Young Athanasius accordingly, after a further course of elementary studies, was handed over to the bishop to be brought up, like Samuel, in the Temple of God.

[2] The statements of Greg. Naz. that he frequented classes of grammar and rhetoric is probable enough; that of Sulpitius Severus that he was 'juris consultus' lacks corroboration.

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