Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. IV:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
§3. Biographies. (a.) Ancient. The writings of Athanasius himself, while seldom furnishing precise chronological data, furnish almost all the primary information as to the facts of his eventful life. The earliest Life is the panegyric of Gregory of Nazianzus (Or. 21), delivered at CP. 379 or 380, rich in praises, but less so in historical material. More important in the latter respect is the Historia Acephala (probably earlier than 390) printed in this volume, pp. 496, sqq. (The Edition by Sievers in Ztschr. für Hist. Theol. for 1868 is referred to in this volume as Sievers simply.) It is a priceless source of chronological information, especially where it coincides with and confirms the data of the Festal Index (pp. 503, sqq.), a document probably earlier than 400. A secondary place is occupied by the Church historians, especially Socrates, Sozomen, and Theodoret, who draw largely from Athanasius himself, and from Rufinus, also in part from the Hist. Aceph. (especially Sozomen), and from Arian sources, which are mainly used by Philostorgius. More scattered notices in later ecclesiastical writers of the fourth century, especially Epiphanius; also Synesius, Jerome, Basil, &c., in the documents of the Councils, &c., and in the Life of Pachomius and other early documents relating to Egyptian Monasticism (see below, Introd. to Vit. Anton. and Appendix, pp. 188, 487).
(b) Medieval. Under this head we may notice the Lives printed by Montfaucon among his Prolegomena. The first, Incerto Auctore, is dependent on the fifth-century historians and of no value. A second, preserved by Photius (c. 840) is in the judgment of that scholar, which Montfaucon endorses unparalleled rubbish. That by the Metaphrast †967) is a patchwork from earlier writers made with little skill, and not of use to the historian. An Arabic Life current in the Coptic Church, communicated to Montf. by Renandot, is given by Montf., as he says, that his readers may appreciate the stupendous ignorance and triviality of that nation. Montf. mentions Latin Lives compiled from Rufinus and from the Hist. Tripartita, of no value whatever. Of the Life of Athanasius by Pachomius, mentioned by Archd. Farrar (infra), I can obtain no particulars.
(c) Modern. The first was that by Tortelius prefixed to the edition of 1520 (§1 (2)), but compiled in the previous century and dedicated to Pope Eugenius IV. (good for its time, M.). Montf. mentions a valueless life by Lipomanus and a worse one of unknown origin prefixed to other early editions. In 1671 Hermant made the first attempt at a critical biography (Paris); in 1664 an English work, “History of the Life and Actions of St. Athanasius by N.B. P.C. Catholick,” with the imprimatur of Abp. Sheldon, had been published at London, in 1677 the biography in Cave, Lives of the Fathers, and in 1686–1704 du Pin, Nouvelle Bibliothèque. About the same date appeared the first volume of the Acta SS. for May, which contains a careful life by Paperbroch (1685; ded. to Innocent XI.). But all previous (to say nothing of subsequent) labours were cast into the shade by the appearance of the Vita of Montfaucon (Prolegg. to Tom. 1) in 1698, in which the chronology was reduced to order, and every particle of information lucidly digested; and by the Memoires of M. Lenain de Tillemont (vol. viii. in 1702), which go over the ground with quite equal thoroughness, and on many points traverse the conclusions of Montfaucon, whose work came into Tillemonts hands only when the latter was on his death-bed (1698). The ground was once more traversed with some fulness and with special attention to the literary and doctrinal work of Athan. by Remy Ceillier, (Aut. Sacrés, vol. v. 1735). After this nothing remained to be done until the revival of interest in patristic studies during the present century. In 1827 appeared the monograph of Möhler Ath. der Grösse (Mainz), a dogmatic (R.C.) rather than a historical study: in 1862 Stanley (Eastern Church, Lect. vii.). Böhringers life (in vol. 6 of Kirchengesch. in Biographien, 1860–1879) is praised as thoroughly good and nearly exhaustive. Fialon St. Athanase, Paris, 1877, is a most interesting and suggestive, though rather sketchy, treatment from an unusual point of view. P. Barbier Vie de St. A. (Tours, 1888) I have not seen. The best English life is that of Dr. Bright, first in the Introd. to the Orations (supra, d. 26), but rewritten for the Dictionary of Christ. Biography. The same writers Introd. to the Hist. Writings (supra ib.) is equally good and should also be consulted. A lucid and able sketch by Dr. Reynolds has been published by the Religious Tract Society, 1889, and Archd. Farrar, Lives of the Fathers, 1, pp. 445–571, is eloquent and sympathetic.
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