‘… seeing that for monks the life of Antony is a sufficient pattern of discipline.’ Athanasius as Mystagogue in his Vita Antonii

in Church History and Religious Culture
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This article argues that in the Vita Antonii Athanasius’s realistic colouring of some commonplaces indicates that more justice has been done to Anthony’s personality, as Athanasius experienced it, than the emphasis on his indebtedness to classical literature suggests. The central question in this article is: how does Athanasius show himself to be a mystagogue in his Vita Antonii? It is shown that the monastic formation process, by which Athanasius represents Anthony’s life, comprehends five stages. At the first two stages the fear of God’s judgement is the driving and purifying force in the ordo vitae. In the third and fourth stages, Athanasius formulates the first aim of his mystagogy: the restoration of Adam’s original state of the soul, marked by imperturbability and serenity. During the fifth and last stage, however, the teacher is faithful to the directives that were taught to him at the very beginning of his monastic life. Now, however, ascesis is not inspired by the fear of the Lord but merely by the love of Christ.

‘… seeing that for monks the life of Antony is a sufficient pattern of discipline.’ Athanasius as Mystagogue in his Vita Antonii

in Church History and Religious Culture




B. Brennan‘Athanasius’ Vita Antonii. A sociological interpretation,’ Vigiliae Christianae 39 (1985) pp. 209–227 esp. pp. 224 notes that the production of the Vita Antonii and the relationship with Anthony reflected in the book are connected with Athanasius’s self-justification. The fact is that the Arians had also tried to win over the desert fathers but Athanasius had become the favourite of one of the most important of them.


See K. Rahner‘Anthropologie, theologische,’ Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche 1 1st ed (Freiburg-Basel-Wien 1957) col. 619; K. Rahner ‘III. Theologische Anthropologie’ Sacramentum mundi. Theologisches Lexicon für die Praxis 1 (Freiburg-Basel-Wien 1967) p. 176.


BartelinkVie d’Antoine pp. 34–35 (role Serapion); pp. 36–42 (parallels and witnesses). The VA must have spread like wildfire in Evagrius’ Latin translation. (cf. P. Bertrand Die Evagriusübersetzung der Vita Antonii. Rezeption-Überlieferung-Edition. Unter besonderer Berücksichtigung der Vitas Patrum-Tradition (Utrecht 2006) p. 365 and passim.


Cf. BartelinkVie d’Antoine pp. 63 67.


Cf. J. Roldanus‘Die Vita Antonii als Spiegel der Theologie des Athanasius und ihr Weiterwirken bis ins 5. Jahrhundert,’ Theologie und Philosophie 58(1983) pp. 194–216.


Cf. F. Frazier‘L’Antoine d’Athanase,’ à propos des chapitres 83–88 de la Vita,’ Vigiliae Christianae 53(1998) pp. 227–256 (‘typocasting’).


Cf. J. Griffiths‘A note on monasticism and nationalism in the Egypt of Athanasius,’ Studia Patristica 16 (1985) pp. 26–27. From the ancient Egyptians of the Middle Kingdom the Copts took over the term Imntt in the liturgy as the name of the place under the earth where Osiris reigned; the term was Christianised and began to mean the place where the souls of the righteous expect the coming of Christ. For the broad context of the cult of the dead during the first centuries: V. Saxer Morts martyrs reliques en Afrique chrétienne aux premiers siècles. Les témoignages de Tertullien Cyprien et Augustin à la lumière de l’archéologie africaine (Paris 1980).


Cf. TerentiusAndria61. Cf. ook: R. Jolivet ‘Introduction’ in: Oeuvres de saint Augustin 1re série: Opuscules I Problèmes fondamentaux (Paris 1939) pp. 216–217 (Bibliothèque Augustinienne).


Cf. AmbrosiusDe Cain et Abel 228; De paradiso 1577; Augustinus De opere monachorum passim and sermo 507; sermo 613.


AugustinusTractatus in Iohannis euangelium 13.12.


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