Creating the Legend of the Alexandrian Bishop

Edward J. Watts

in Riot in Alexandria

Published by University of California Press

Published in print April 2010 | ISBN: 9780520262072
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520945623 | DOI:
Creating the Legend of the Alexandrian Bishop

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This chapter looks at Athanasius and the efforts that he made to tie the authority of the bishop of Alexandria to his strong and unwavering advocacy of orthodoxy. In the same way that religious services allowed living bishops to shape thinking about current affairs, so too did the liturgical commemoration of past bishops shape a congregation's understanding of its own history. This commemoration often smoothed over the rough edges of an individual's career to create a thematically consistent and easily apprehended historical profile. Throughout his episcopate, Athanasius gradually developed a distinctive personal identity that emphasized a particular sort of spiritual authority and promised his followers divinely inspired leadership. His efforts generated such a large and passionate following among Alexandrian Nicene Christians that even imperial authorities found themselves grudgingly backing away from open confrontation with the bishop. The chapter also discusses Athanasius's episcopal power, his role in the politics of self-definition, his return to Alexandria from exile following the death of Constantine in 337, and his historical legacy.

Keywords: Athanasius; bishops; Alexandria; orthodoxy; episcopate; episcopal power; politics; self-definition; Christians; exile

Chapter.  13582 words. 

Subjects: Greek and Roman Archaeology

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