The central purpose of this study is to use modern techniques of historical research to probe behind Athanasius' misrepresentations, many of which have held sway for sixteen centuries, in order to discover the true nature of the ecclesiastical history and the ecclesiastical politics of the fourth century. If some readers feel that too much of what I have written resembles a detective story more than a work of history, that cannot be helped: where important facts have lain concealed for so long, such an investigation as 1 have undertaken constitutes an essential prerequisite for serious historical analysis. At the end, I have tried to show briefly how my sometimes speculative conclusions about Athanasius himself suggest a coherent and convincing general picture of the role of the Christian church and its bishops in the Roman Empire of Constantine and his imperial successors.
My research would have been impossible without both institutional support and the opportunity to work in a consistently academic environment. In 1983-84 the University of Toronto granted me sabbatical leave, the John S. Guggenheim Foundation a leave fellowship, and Wolfson College, Oxford, a visiting fellowship in order to write what I then envisaged as a straightforward analysis of ecclesiastical politics after the death of Constantine. The task of understanding and interpreting Athanasius' writings on his own behalf proved far more difficult and complex than I had suspected, so that my sabbatical year ended with less than half of a preliminary draft completed and with more problems remaining to be tackled than had seemed even to exist at the outset. Some of my main ideas about the career of Athanasius were presented in a series of seminars in Oxford in 1984, and on several occasions to graduate classes in Toronto between 1985 and 1992: the final form of the work owes much to the comments and penetrating questions of these audiences. The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada provided a small research grant which has considerably hastened the completion of the final text, while the University of Toronto not only gave me a year's research leave again in 1990-91, but has over the years deepened my insight into the modus operandi of men like Athanasius and Constantius.
That this study has taken so long to complete has enabled me to draw gratefully on some extremely valuable work published since I began—particularly Hanns Christoph Brennecke's dissertation on Hilary of Poitiers and his Habilitationsschrift on the homoeans, Rowan Williams' study of the theology of Arius, Alberto Camplani's brilliant elucidation of the problem of Athanasius1 Festal Letters, and R. P. C. Hanson's large posthumously published investigation of the theological debates of the fourth century. Moreover during the final revision Dr. Glen Thompson kindly gave me a copy of part of his unpublished Columbia University dissertation on papal correspondence of the third and fourth centuries.
I am most grateful to those who have read and improved the manuscript at various stages. Maurice Wiles read carefully a draft of the first ten chapters in 1988 and made many helpful comments on it. Rowan Williams and Fergus Millar spared precious time during the autumn and winter of 1991-92 to peruse the penultimate version and saved me from some serious errors, while two anonymous referees for Harvard University Press submitted intelligent and perceptive reports which persuaded me to recast the final five chapters. Finally, I owe a deep debt of gratitude to Margaretta Fulton, who waited patiently for many years, selected the helpful referees, and convinced me of the necessity of changes after I thought I had finished. Without such help, this would be a different, even more idiosyncratic book.
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