(Doctoral thesis) The Quest for Orthopraxy. Hymns and Prayers in the Pastoral Programme of Athanasios of Alexandria
The present thesis is a study of Athanasios of Alexandria‘s thought and writings—predominantly pastoral—in the context of ecclesial, ascetic, and liturgical developments in fourth-century Christian communities in Egypt. I explore Athanasios‘ Festal Letters, individual correspondence (primarily the Letter to Markellinos), and the Life of Antony from the perspective of the bishop‘s concerns about the contemporaneous diversity of devotional and liturgical practices of praying and hymn-singing.
The central argument of this thesis is that Athanasios had a coherent vision of the ideal Christian prayer and hymnody. For Athanasios, 'orthodox‘ Christians—lay and ascetics, educated devotees and common believers alike—should derive their practices of devotion and liturgy from the Bible—the Psalter and the Biblical odes—rather than other sources.
Athanasios‘ programme of devotional and liturgical orthopraxy centred around the Biblical ideal is part of his much broader ecclesiological project of bringing unity to the division-riddled church of Egypt. The bishop conceives of the Scripturally-cued shared patters of praying and hymn-singing as one of the means to unify scattered Christian communities. Although his pastoral programme of a uniform Biblical devotion is not as self-consciously and combatively formulated as e.g. his polemic against the 'Arians‘ or Meletians, it surfaces across his writings with consistency. Targeted against the diversity of modes of prayer and hymn-singing practiced across a variety of doctrinally, ecclesially, and socially different communities, Athanasios‘ pastoral programme of devotional orthopraxy reflected the trends towards unification in the bishop-led Christian culture of late antiquity and contributed to their further strengthening.