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Athanasius (CWS): The Life of Antony and The Letter to Marcellinus (Classics of Western Spirituality Series) Paperback – 1 Jan 1979


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You have entered on a fine contest with the monks in Egypt, intending as you do to measure up to or even to surpass them in your discipline of virtue. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Amazon.com: 16 reviews
30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
Inspiring 15 Nov. 2002
By benjamin - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Although the preface is a bit lacking, the two works by St. Athanasius translated here are worth not only reading, but contemplating and wrestling with as well.
The first work, The Life of Antony, is a work about the father of Christian asceticism, St. Antony of Egypt. It contains both narrative and doctrinal content; the doctrinal content is presented in the forms of discourses by Antony, usually to groups of monks. He teaches much on demons and the discernment of spirits, the fate of souls after death, the importance of staying within the Church and staying away from schismatics and heretics. The discourses are, at a few points, a bit polemical - like many works from the early Church - but not excessively overbearing.
The uniqueness of the story is not just in Antony's doctrinal discourses, though. The narrative teaches things all its own. One of these things is that by separating one's self from the world the holy person becomes so much more indespensible to the world. Although Antony lived as a monk separate from the world, he was never separated from the world; in geographically and spiritually separating himself from the world, Antony became that much more involved in his world. He taught, healed, exorcised demons and engaged in debates with philosophers, all of this because of his reputation as a holy man.
From this follows something else taught by the narrative: the pursuit of God truly transforms one and causes one to become a conduit for God's healing and redemption of the world. Antony received visions and words of knowledge about people and things about to occur and more people were converted to the Christian faith. The work of Antony, as the book repeatedly emphasizes, is the work of God.
The second work contained in this volume, The Letter to Marcellinus, is a delightful exposition on praying the Psalms of David. St. Athanasius writes that regardless of one's experience, the Psalms provide words to express where one is at - whether in sorrow and despair or in joy. He also shows (through some rather creative interpretation) that the whole of Scripture is contained within the Psalter.
It would have been nice if a translation of Psalm 151 (found only in the Greek Bible, which is what Athanasius used) had been included, as Athanasius references it in his Letter to Marcellinus. The work is found in the New Oxford Annoted Apocrypha: New Revised Standard Version, though, so if you don't have one, buy one (isbn: 0195288009)!
All in all, both works are absolutely charming.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Great Book 28 April 2007
By C. Burdette - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The Life of St. Antony was very uplifting and encouraging. The Letter to Marcellinus really helped me view the Psalms in a different light. It was a great benefit to read this book. I highly recommend it to anyone searching for deeper understanding of the Christian life.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
An Old Friend 2 Sept. 2013
By Barnabus - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I read this book when I was a seminarian in 1975. But, must be honest and say that I didn't have the maturity to understand desert spirituality then. Heck, I was only 22 years old. And, I was only beginning to understand myself. But, now, at age 60 and having done a lot more interior work psychologically, and in spiritual direction, I wish God would raise up more Anthony's, and also the desert mothers who sought refuge to be in the Presence of our Lord. These folks, and their witness could have an immensely positive impact on a society which is confused, lost, becoming morally bankrupt, greedy, and, you fill in the blank.

Having said that, I'm not saying that our culture is totally destitute of morality. There are examples every day of folks who love and work for justice and righteousness. They don't always make the news, which is sad.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
A spiritual itinerary of conversion, withdrawal, purgative struggle & transformatrion 9 Sept. 2007
By TheoGnostus - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
"The personalization of the mystical path begun with Philo's presentation of Moses and the patriarchs here reaches a new stage, as Athanasius portrays his contemporary, Anthony the Monachos, as the ideal mystic initiate." Bernard McGinn, The Foundation of Mysticism

Antony, the Father of Monks:
I was captivated when I first heard, at an early age of twelve, the Life of St. Antony, written by Athanasius, the heroic defender of church orthodoxy. The stories of Antony's battles with demons, and his toil and escape into the desert to avoid temptation, appeal to Coptic kids, even at early age and is used by the church to promote the monastic ideals in childhood.
The Vita Antonini, which St Athanasius wrote as the hagiography of Saint Antony, unveils fascinating mystical encounters while living daily within the boundary of a world ruled by the Powers of darkness. Written about 357, three decades after his election for Papacy in the great church of Alexandria, the Megalopolice. Athanasius for more than a half century toiled to preserve Nicene Orthodoxy, championed by him and by his successors establishing the solid foundation upon which Christian faith of the Christian East was built.

Antony's Pilgrimage:
Antony's monastic pilgrimage was plagued with spiritual warfare during which Antony resisted temptation and became a target for renewed attacks. The rest of the work could be sorted as a manual of monastic instruction, with particular emphasis on resisting evil through self mortification. Within the same patristic tradition John Cassian and Evagrius Ponticus wrote their marvelous books for lay and monastics. Athanasius records Antony's struggles, and tells his readers how to recognize and fight the devil. St. Antony is believed to be a Thaumaturgies, the vehicle for many miracles, and those who sought healing were always instructed to give the glory to God, the source of all good. Antony became an icon of Christian humility and self-mortification. The life of Antony is an edifying biography to all Christians, at any stage of their spiritual pilgrimage. One wonders if the work that left its readers breathless in late antiquity could still be heard today.

The Vita Antonini:
The 'life' is recounted in the first fourteen chapters, giving particular details of his mystical schema (spiritual itinerary), while the following eighty illustrate the examples of Antony's Theognosis, his wisdom by knowing and experiencing the presence of the Lord. Anthony withdrew to the desert, living ascetically on bread and water. As a result of his prayerful life and self denial, he came to the attention of the faithful in outer world.
Western scholars alleged that Athanasius might have been using the Vita as a polemical tool, to promote monasticism in the West. There are times when some still wonder if Athanasius, who was a gifted 'Orator and Preacher,' known as the 'Evangelical Doctor,' used his charming style of hagiographic story telling in persuasion for the holy cause.
Throughout, Athanasius teaches that monastic life is an imitation of Christ, a discipleship of his following. Antony followed this discipline (askesis), which for him was a battle with the demonic powers of self and the world. He conquers in those extreme temptations by the grace of Christ, who strengthened him. At the end, Antony is presented as the renewed human, who through the Christ recovered what Adam had lost.

Message of the Vita:
In a most compelling analysis, Philp Rousseau, the eminent patristic writes in, 'The Desert fathers, Antony...', "Antony recalled his own initial vulnerability. demons could do little more than argument an existing frame of mind;... So it is not so much the imagery as the mechanics that we must attend to. The ascetic was bent upon reclaiming his conscious life from memories of error, weakness, and indulgence. this he did by fixing his attention on a range of concepts and of texts or dicts that could not but exclude those other 'thoughts'. in this way he built up a psychic wall against his past, both cultural and personal." (The Study of Spirituality, pp 126)

The Mind of Athanasius:
The heart of Athanasius's theology, is centered around the relationship of God with the universe in creation and salvation. God's absolute transcendence, which Athanasius held in common with his Alexandrine predecessors, is clearly modified. God's immanence is not merely a mitigation of transcendence, in the world (and) fundamental to God's own nature. " This is all the more striking because Athanasius does not weaken the absolute distinction between creator and created, but rather assumes this in strong terms. Yet the Incarnation in particular presents God to the world in an immediate (and paradoxical) sense that contrasts with most of Athanasius's Middle-Platonizing theological predecessors. This remains a striking and powerful position," wrote Andrew McGowan, on 'The Coherence of his Thought'
The emphasis on the gulf between God and humankind called in question Hellenistic ideas found in Alexandrine thought, Origen in particular, in virtue of which human beings could attempt to ascend to God. For Athanasius, who defended the reality of the incarnation, "He was made man, that we might be made God," deification no longer meant restoration of our natural state but realization of a new possibility offered to us by God through the incarnation. Andrew Louth came to a conclusion that Origen's Greek concepts, in which humans realize their kinship with God, fall into the background, Athanasius emphasis is on god's condescension to us rather than on our ascent to God. Fr. Louth makes this statement, "an important part of Athanasius' achievement was in his championing of the ascetic movement... In his widely influential Life of Antony, he presented an understanding of the ascetic life less in human search for God than as the way in which the war against the forces of evil, in which God has achieved the decisive victory through the cross and resurrection,..."
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Great book 28 April 2013
By Don - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Well done translation of Athanasius' work. The second most read book in history (next to the Bible) for about a thousand years. Very fascinating story. It does seem exaggerated or far fetched at some points, but still very inspiring and historically very important.
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