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Title: Polemic and Episcopal authority in fourth-century Christianity
Author: Flower, R. A.
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2007
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This thesis explores the employment of polemical literature by mid-fourth-century Christian authors as a means of promoting themselves as authoritative and orthodox figures during a period of doctrinal uncertainty. It focuses on the writings of four bishops (Athanasius of Alexandria, Hilary of Poitiers, Lucifer of Cagliari and Epiphanius of Salamis), who are noted for their fierce opposition to heresy, and, in the case of the first three, their vehement attacks on the emperor Constantius II (337-361). These authors chose to draw upon recognisable literary elements and characters – most notably biblical figures and martyrs – in order to present themselves and their enemies as re-enacting canonical struggles from Christian history. These accounts combined the techniques of classical rhetoric and the deployment of paideia in agonistic disruption with an explicitly Christian canon of reference material and system of values. This thesis therefore considers the representation of the authors’ political and theological opponents, in order to show that when these men attacked ‘heresy’, they often did so in order to defend themselves from the same charge. The first chapter discusses the literary antecedents, both classical and Christian, for the attacks directed against Constantius II. The second chapter examines the Christian construction of an image of the emperor Constantius II as the archetypal tyrant and persecutor; the third argues that these writers laid claim to charismatic authority by presenting themselves as the heirs of the martyrs; the fourth continues the theme of scriptural re-enactment by examining its wider use in the literary construction of theological disputes as replaying biblical events or fulfilling prophecies; the fifth continues the theme of heretical genealogies by exploring the emergence of quasi-scientific classification systems for heterodox belief, particularly in the encyclopaedic Panarion of Epiphanius.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available