Orthodox Church Fathers: Christian Theology Classics Search Engine

Previous PageTable Of ContentsNext Page



In preparing the present volume the Editor has aimed at providing the English reader with the most complete apparatus for the study of Athanasius, his life, and his theological influence, which could be brought within the compass of a single volume of the `Nicene and Post-Nicene Library.' The volume contains all the most important treatises of Athanasius (in as nearly as possible their exact chronological order), with the exception of the ad Serapionem, the contra Apollinarium, the ad Marcellinum, and the exegetical remains. On these and other treatises omitted from the present collection the reader is referred to the Prolegomena, ch. iii.

A great part of the volume, including the bulk of the historical and anti-Arian works, and the Festal Letters, consists of a revision of translations and notes comprised in the Oxford Library of the Fathers. The notes to all, and the translation of most, of the works in question, excepting the Festal Letters, were prepared for that series by Mr. (since Cardinal) Newman. It was at first intended to incorporate his work without any change; but as the volume began to take shape this intention was inevitably to some extent modified; moreover, the limits of space demanded the sacrifice of some of the less important matter. The principles upon which the necessary changes have been made will be found stated on pp. 304, 305, 450. What is there said applies also to the de Decretis and Letter of Eusebius, as well as to the notes to the historical pieces; it may be added that the translation of the `Fourth Discourse' has been very carefully revised, in order to secure the utmost closeness to the some what difficult original. In all the new translations, as well as in the revision of earlier work, the aim has been to secure the strictest fidelity compatible with clearness. The easy assumption that distinctions of tenses, constructions, &c., count for little or nothing in patristic Greek has been steadily resisted. Doubtless there are passages where the distinction, for example, of aorist and perfect, seems to fade away; but generally speaking, Athanasius is fully sensitive to this and other points of grammar.

The incorporation in this volume of so much of the ample patristic learning of Cardinal Newman has inevitably involved some sacrifice of uniformity. To provide the new matter with illustrative notes on anything like the same scale, even had it been within the present editor's power, would have involved the crowding out of many works which the reader will certainly prefer to have before him. Again, many opinions are expressed by Cardinal Newman which the present editor is unable to accept. It may not be invidious to specify as an example the many cases in which the notes enforce views of Church authority, especially of papal authority, or again of the justifiableness of religious persecution, which appear to be at any rate foreign to the mind of Athanasius; or the tacit assumption that the men of the fourth century can be divided by a broad and fast line into orthodox and heretical, and that while everything may be believed to the discredit of the latter, the former were at once uniform in their convictions and consistently right in practice. Such an assumption operates with special injustice against men like Eusebius, whose position does not fall in with so summary a classification. But it has been thought better to leave the notes in nearly all such cases as they stand, only very rarely inserting a reference or observation to call attention to another aspect of the case. And in no instance has the editor forgotten the respect due to the theological learning and personal greatness of Cardinal Newman, or to his peculiar eminence as a religious thinker.

But this has made it inevitable that many matters are regarded in one way in the notes of Newman, and in quite another where the present editor speaks for himself. What the great Cardinal says of his `Historical Sketches' (Preface to vol. ii.) holds good to a large extent of his expositions of Athanasius. `Though mainly historical, they are in their form and character polemical, as being directed against certain Protestant ideas and opinions.' The aim of the present editor has been throughout exclusively historical. He has regarded any polemical purpose as foreign. to the spirit in which this series was undertaken, and moreover as fated in the long run to defeat its own aim. Whatever results may ultimately be reaped from the field of patristic studies, whether practical, dogmatic, or controversial, they must be resolutely postponed or rather ignored, pending the application of strict method to the criticism and interpretation of the texts, and to the reconstruction of the history whether of the life or of the doctrine of the Church. For the latter purpose, `lucifera experimenta, non fructifera quaerenda.' To follow this method, without concealing, but without obtruding, his personal convictions, has been the endeavour of the present editor. That he has succeeded, it is not for him to claim: but his work has been in this respect disinterested, and he ventures to hope that readers of all opinions will at least recognise in it `un livre de bonne foy.'

The Prolegomena are not intended to be anything approaching to a complete treatise upon the history, writings, or theology of S. Athanasius. They are simply what their title implies, an attempt to furnish in a connected form a preliminary account of the matters comprised in the text of the volume, such as on the one hand to reduce the necessity for a running historical commentary, on the other hand to prepare the reader for the study of the text itself.

Full indices have been added for the same purpose. The general index comprises the leading theological and historical topics, and a complete register of all personal names. This latter seemed requisite in order to escape the arbitrariness of any line which might have been drawn between important and insignificant characters. The nobodies of history may occasionally be important witnesses. The index of Scripture texts has been made with painful attention to detail, and contains no unverified reference. To draw the line in each case between formal citation and mere reminiscence would have involved too great an expenditure of time and space; moreover there are many probable reminiscences of Scripture language which it would have been endless to include. But on the whole the index in question claims to be a complete synopsis of the use made of the Bible in the text of this volume. As such it is hoped that, with whatever occasional errors, it may be of use to the patristic and the biblical student alike.

For the original matter comprised in this volume the editor disclaims any credit of his own. He has aimed simply at consulting and comparing the best authorities, at sifting their conclusions, and at following those which seem best founded. That in doing so the original sources are ready to hand throughout is the peculiar good fortune of those who work at Athanasius. It remains, then, for the editor to express his principal obligations to modern writers. To mention those of earlier date, such as Montfaucon and Tillemont, is merely to say that he has not neglected the indispensable foundations of his task. But Athanasius has also attracted to the study of his works much of the best patristic scholarship of recent times. Among the names mentioned in the first chapter of the Prolegomena, that of Cardinal Newman speaks for itself. No English student will neglect his Arians, however much some of its views may require modification. Pre-eminent for accurate knowledge of the texts and for vivid presentment of the history is Dr. Bright, whose works have been constantly open before the present editor, and have secured him from many an oversight. His occasional divergence from Dr. Bright's views, especially on points of chronology, has gone along with grateful appreciation of this scholar's genuine historical interest, large theological grasp, and perhaps unequalled personal sympathy with Athanasius as a man and as a writer. (On the use made in this volume of his Later Treatises of S Athanasius, the reader is referred to what is said, infr. p. 482.)

Last, but not least, the editor must acknowledge his obligations to Mr. Gwatkin. To say that that writer's Studies of Arianism have done more than any one work with which he is acquainted to place the intricate story of the period on a secure historical footing is saying a great deal, but by no means too much. To say that whatever historical accuracy has been attained in this volume has been rendered possible by Mr. Gwatkin's previous labours is to the present writer a matter of mere honest acknowledgment. Especially this is the case in chronological questions. Here Mr. Gwatkin has in no single instance been blindly followed, or without the attempt to interrogate the sources independently. But in nearly all cases Mr. Gwatkin's results, which, it should be added, are those accepted by the best continental students also, have held their own. It has been the editor's misfortune to differ from Mr. Gwatkin now and then, for example with regard to the Life of Antony: but even where he has differed as to conclusions, he has received help and instruction from Mr. Gwatkin's ample command of material, and genuinely scientific method.

In addition to the above writers, the manifold obligations of the editor are recorded in the introductions and notes: if any have been passed over, it has been due to inadvertence or to the necessity of condensation. For the suggestions and help of personal friends the editor's gratitude may be here expressed without the mention of names. But he may specially mention the Rev. H. Ellershaw and Miss Payne Smith, to the former of whom he owes the translation of the Life of Antony, while the latter has kindly revised the Oxford translation of the bulk of the Festal Letters. Lastly, the many kindnesses, and uniform consideration, shewn to him by the English editor of this series call for his warmest recognition: that they may prove not wholly thrown away is the utmost that their recipient can venture to hope.

The University, Durham, 1891.

A.R. Contents OF Volume IV.

*N.B. The Introductions are in every case by Rev. A. Robertson; the translations and the notes are by him except where otherwise stated. All additions made by him to Dr. Newman's notes are included in square brackets.

Previous PageTop Of PageNext Page