Athanasius The Copt, And His Times -- By: Norvelle Wallace Sharpe

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 072:288 (Oct 1915)
Article: Athanasius The Copt, And His Times
Author: Norvelle Wallace Sharpe

Athanasius The Copt, And His Times1

Norvelle Wallace Sharpe, M.D.


The Athanasian epoch occurred in the latter portion of the third century and the major portion of the fourth. The predominating world power was the Roman Empire, vast in extent, polyglot in its constituents, notably lacking in the virility and cohesive stability of the preceding centuries, — its art, its science, its literature, its politics, its philosophy, and its religion frankly manifesting the evidence of decadence that but foreshadowed its final doom. Speculative philosophy was the fashion of thought in extra-ecclesiastic circles; speculative religion the vogue practiced by the intra-ecclesiastic world. The sound and enduring things are seen to have been masked by casuistic embroideries; the Spirit of the Law has been smothered by the Letter: — while Reason of the Forum, Logic of the Schools, and simple Faith of the Sanctuary have been supplanted by Colliquative Verbiage, — clamorous progenitor of Confusion. With the exception of the far distant civilizations of China, Japan, and India, the Civilized World may be held, at this period, to be synonymous with the Roman Empire. A single instance will suffice as illustration: Britain was invaded by Julius Cæsar b.c. 55; Claudius attempted further conquest nearly a century later; under Julius Agricola a.d. 78–84

Rome attained her maximum of control. In the Athanasian. epoch (297–373) the English segment of the Teutonic peoples yet resided on the Continent, crude in civilization, and worshipers of divers gods, of which Tiw, Woden, Thor, Frea, Saetere, and Eastre spring readily to mind. Not until 449 (a century posterior to Athanasius) did Hengist and his predatory followers land at Ebbsfleet.

Among the notable Christians that preceded Athanasius (sequent to 100) may be recalled John, Ignatius, Polycarp, Justin Martyr, Irenæus, Origen, and Cyprian; he is followed by Ambrose, Augustine, Jerome, and Chrysostom.

The mere recital of the Emperors that donned the purple during his life is highly suggestive of the turbulence of the time (Diocletian, Maximinianus, Galerius, Constantius I., Maxentius, Maximinus, Constantine I., Licinius, Constantine II., Constans, Constantius II., Julian, Jovianus, Valentinian I., Valens, Gratian, Valentinian II.).

The Decian persecutions had preceded Athanasius by nearly fifty years, the antichristian saturnalia of Diocletian was an early memory of his childhood. This last of the ferocious onslaughts upon Christianity was made by a man who merits praise for his high intelligence, astonishing activity, honesty of pu...

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