VATICAN CITY, JUNE 20, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI says that St. Athanasius was a best-selling author in ancient Christianity and his widely read biography of Anthony the Abbot contributed to the spread of monasticism.
The Pope said this today when he reflected on St. Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, in the general audience held in Paul VI Hall.
He said: “Athanasius is also the author of […] a text that constituted a ‘best seller’ of ancient Christian literature: the ‘Life of Anthony,’ the biography of St. Anthony the Abbot, written shortly after the death of this saint, while the bishop of Alexandria was in exile, living with the monks of the Egyptian desert.”
Due to his conflict with proponents of the Arian heresy, Athanasius was forced to flee his diocese five times, spending 17 years in exile, the Holy Father explained.
“St. Anthony, with his spiritual strength, was the most important person in sustaining the faith of St. Athanasius,” the Pontiff added. “Athanasius was a friend of the great hermit, and even received one of the two sheepskins left by Anthony as his inheritance, together with the mantel that he himself had given him.
“The biography of this beloved figure in Christian tradition contributed greatly to the spread of monasticism in the East and the West, as it became very popular and was soon translated twice in Latin and then in other Eastern languages.
“Athanasius showed that he had a clear awareness of the influence that the figure of Anthony could have on the Christian people.”
Referring to his encyclical, “Deus Caritas Est,” Benedict XVI affirmed that Athanasius’ and Anthony’s lives show us “that ‘those who draw near to God do not withdraw from men, but rather become truly close to them.'”