Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Jennifer Barry: Receptions of Exile: Athanasius of Alexandria's legacy

Athanasius of Alexandria is frequently cited as one of the pillars of the Christian faith. It is often noted by his ancient—and contemporary—biographers that this legacy is tied directly to his experience of persecution. His frequent battles with emperors and heretics, however, were not the only reason his reputation spread well beyond the borders of Alexandria. In this paper, I argue that Athanasius’ identity as an exile became a popular trope that circulated within pro-Nicene Christian literature at the turn of the fourth century. In particular, his third exile takes on a literary life of its own. Many authors will use the story of his flight into the desert and triumphant return to legitimize subsequent episcopal exiles. Specifically, I examine how Athanasius’ exile is easily invoked to bolster support for John Chrysostom during the Johanine controversy. John’s biographer Palladius of Helenopolis insists that those who question John’s exile are no better than the enemies who persecuted Athanasius. Ultimately, Palladius uses Athanasius’ exile to shame John Chrysostom’s accusers and re-write the bishop’s legacy as an orthodox one.

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