Athanasius of Alexandria (bishop 328-373) is one of the great personalities of late-antique Christianity, and he is well-known to theologians and historians alike as a champion of orthodoxy against the ‘Arian’ heresy and a proponent of the ascetic life. His Festal Letters, written annually to announce the date of Easter, offer unique insight into another side of this towering figure—his work as a pastor and leader of the Egyptian Church. These letters have often been neglected, because they survive fragmentarily in Syriac and Coptic translations and nearly all the original Greek text has been lost. Yet his Easter messages provide a priceless glimpse into Athanasius’ thought and how a leading fourth-century bishop confronted the pastoral challenges of a rapidly changing world.
This book presents the first complete English translation of all the known fragments of the Festal Letters. Introductions and annotations give the essential historical and literary background to the texts and how they illuminate Athanasius’ teachings and practice. The letters are supplemented by fresh translations of the Syriac Festal Index and the incomplete Historia acephala preserved in Latin, which furnish crucial evidence for the chronology of Athanasius’ career. Taken together, these works afford a more comprehensive picture of Athanasius as both bishop and pastor.