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Valyermo Abbey

The Monastic Letters of St. Athanasius the Great

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Scholars have often concentrated on the theological writings of St Athanasius (c. 296-373 AD) and on his influence as a religious leader, so that his contribution to the monastic life has not received due recognition. In these six letters addressed to monks, Athanasius is revealed as a wise spiritual guide and loving pastor, determined that the monks should receive sound teaching, so as to avoid the pitfalls of heresies current at that time. As Leslie Barnard notes in his Introduction, 'The permanent significance of these letters lies in their wisdom, moderation, and balance.'

Saint Athanasius (c. 295 - 373), Bishop and Doctor of the Church, was born in Alexandria of Christian parents. After successful studies, he spent time in the desert in retreat with Saint Antony the Great. In 325, he attended as a deacon the Council of Nicea, where his influence began to be felt. He was elected Archbishop of Alexandria in 328, but seventeen of the forty-six years of his episcopate were spent in exile, due to his active and ruthless stand against the heretical teachings of Arius. His extant writings include a 'Life' of Saint Antony and treatises on Christian dogma.

Leslie William Barnard, born in 1924, was ordained a priest in 1952 and now lives in retirement. He was Senior Lecturer in Theology at the University of Leeds 1968-86, his chief area of study being fourth-century patristic writings.