The Inheritance of Historiography, 350-900

By Christopher Holdsworth; T.P. Wiseman | Go to book overview

I
DID ATHANASIUS WRITE
HISTORY?

B.H. Warmington

The most convenient edition of most of the works here considered is that by William Bright (Oxford 1881) with an introduction still useful. The title Bright gave to his edition was ‘St Athanasius’ Historical Writings’, and he includes the following: Epistula Encyclica (dated to 340); Apologia contra Arianos (350, with a brief addition in our recensions in 358); Epistula ad Episcopos Aegypti et Libyae (early 356)—strictly a theological work; Apologia ad Constantium (356); Apologia de Fuga (357/8); Epistula ad Serapionem de Morte Arii (358 or 340)1, Historia Arianorum (358), normally associated, as by Bright, with an Epistula ad Monachos (358 or 340); and Epistula de Synodis (359). Robertson’s edition of the translations of works by Athanasius, also with a most useful introduction, in the Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers (Oxford 1892) added three further letters and the Vita Antonii to what he described as ‘historical or historico-polemical works’. This paper considers only those listed in Bright’s edition because the letters added by Robertson are brief and unimportant, and because the problems raised by the Vita Antonii are too complex for the space available.2 One additional work is considered on its own merits; it is a circular letter issued by the Egyptian bishops, and bearing all the marks of Athanasian authorship, written in 339 and included among the documents reproduced in the later Apologia contra Arianos.

The works are described as historical because they give accounts, of varied lengths and complexity, both of individual incidents and of complex developments in church politics from c. 320 to 360, in which Athanasius’ own life and actions were inextricably mixed. But it is obvious that in form at any rate none save the Historia Arianorum corresponds to historical writing as understood in antiquity; they are either epistolary or apologetic. Yet in the epistolary category we are not talking, save in the letter to Serapio, of private letters written to a personal friend, or even of letters carefully written with a view to later, posthumous publication, but of letters which would have a wide and immediate circulation. General letters would certainly go out in some hundreds of copies to ecclesiastics over a large portion of the Empire. The impression of immediacy is strengthened by the clustering of the dates of

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