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December 10, 1998
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v2.1 Reference

Athanasius and Asceticism

It is often assumed that early Christian asceticism drew its followers completely away from worldly concerns into the realm of pure spirituality. But the life and thought of Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria (AD 328-73), shows just how worldly—and deeply political—ascetic theology could be. David Brakke examines this important church leader's efforts to reconcile asceticism's compelling intensity with the more conventional needs of the families and everyday believers on whom the Church relied for support and stability. Brakke describes how Athanasius joined with other fourth century bishops to create a strongly unified Christian church in Egypt, bringing both the solitary monks of the desert and the female ascetics in the cities under church authority by organizing them into auxiliaries of the emerging local parishes. By carefully integrating ascetic values and practices into a comprehensive vision of the church as a heavenly commonwealth, Brakke argues, Athanasius unified a community of Christians practicing diverse versions of their faith and helped to establish the lines of administrative and pastoral authority that would be essential to the church's future success. This illuminating study of the turmoil of fourth century Christianity also includes the first English translations of many of Athanasius's ascetic and pastoral writings.

About the Author

David Brakke is an associate professor of religious studies at Indiana University.


"There is much to commend in this fine book... Brakke does not succumb to the reductionist tendencies of Athanasian studies: he presents a theologically articulate, often misunderstood, ascetically oriented, ecclesiastically dedicated, visionary, and well-educated theologian whose agenda was to create a church in which all could have easy access and full status. Brakke has presented us with a portrayal of Athanasius that can be believed and trusted."

- Richard Valantasis - Journal of Religion

"Advances our understanding of Athanasius and of Christian asceticism. Brakke brings a social historian's sophistication and a linguist's ability... providing a clear thesis with which to reckon."

- Joseph W. Trigg - Church History

"A splendid contribution to the continuing debates about the relation of theology to politics in the controversies of the fourth Christian history."

- Theology

"A fine book... Brakke argues convincingly that Athanasius sought both to regulate the role of virgins (and women in general) in the life of the Church by removing them from public activities and to persuade the men who lived as monks... to become more actively involved in their local churches."

- Journal of Ecclesiastical History
Johns Hopkins University Press
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9780801860553 : athanasius-and-asceticism-brakke
Paperback / softback
376 Pages
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