Apology for Athanasius: The Traditional Portrait of the Saint according to Rufinus and the Byzantine Historians

Mario Baghos
Associate Lecturer
St Andrew’s Greek Orthodox Theological College
& PhD Candidate, University of Sydney

Abstract: This article addresses the negative appraisals of the life and legacy of St Athanasius in contemporary historiography by rehabilitating the ‘traditional portrait’ of the saint in the writings of Rufinus of Aquileia and the Byzantine historians Socrates, Sozomen, and Theodoret. After briefly delineating the saint’s legacy in both the aforementioned historians and the Christian Church, the article turns to the criticisms levelled against him by the Eunomian historian Philostorgius of Borissus in order to demonstrate that contemporary historiographical approaches constitute a resurgence of the Philostorgian/Eusebian paradigm (the latter named after ‘The Eusebians,’ the Arian group opposed by Athanasius). The next main section of the paper contextualises the Latin adage mundus contra Athanasium et Athanasius contra mundum, affirming that it was an Arian empire against which the saint contended in his defence of the Nicene acclamation that God the Son is ‘of one essence’ with the Father. Finally, the article reconstructs the traditional portrait or representation of the saint from the Byzantine historians mentioned above, focusing especially on his role as providential agent, prophet, and martyr.