Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria in Egypt, was a key figure in early church history. During the fourth century he defended the deity of Christ boldly in the face of widespread Arianism. Peter Barnes, an Australian pastor and church history lecturer, outlines Athanasius’ life, times, and views in this bitesize biography, part of the publisher’s ‘Early Church Fathers’ series.
The first part of the book is biographical. Dates of church councils, Athanasius’ works, periods of exile, and other relevant events are jigsawed together to form a chronology of the bishop’s life. It was transitional period: Christianity had gained acceptance under the Roman emperor Constantine after centuries of persecution, but doctrinal challenges had arisen from within the church.
Arius, a Libyan cleric, denied the full deity of Christ, and his teachings gained a foothold across Christendom. Constantine sought to resolve the matter at the Council of Nicaea in AD 325, after which the full deity of Christ was affirmed. Athanasius would become a leading defender of the resultant Nicaean Creed.
The second half of the book considers Athanasius’ thought. It both traces and critiques his nuanced understanding of the incarnate nature of God the Son. Athanasius’ views on Scripture and monasticism are also covered.
In order to keep the page count low, the narrative surveys events, personalities, and ideas quite swiftly. A glossary of early church figures and terms would be a useful aid while reading. But seasoned as it is with many interesting facts and quotations concerning Athanasius and his world, this small book makes ideal reading for someone wishing to dip their toe into early church history.