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Early Christian Biographies

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Most readers are quite likely to have some basic information about St. Cyprian (d. 258), St. Ambrose (ca. 339–397) and St. Augustine (354–430). Fewer readers are likely to be equally informed about St. Anthony (251?–356), St. Paul the Hermit (d. ca. 340), St. Hilarion (ca. 291–371) and St. Epiphanius (438/439–496/497). Perhaps hardly any reader is acquainted with the holy monk Malchus, presumably a contemporary of St. Jerome (ca. 342–420) and son of a tenant farmer near Nisbis.

Most of the saints’ lives presented here, though the volume is entitled Early Christian Biographies, belong in reality to quite another category, hagiography. The primary requisite of this genre is to serve a religious purpose: edification. Herein hagiography differs considerably from a modern critical biography which demands historically verifiable events and accounts. Nevertheless the account of Malchus, as it is presented in this volume, is unique. St. Jerome writes: “Drawn by curiosity I approached the man and inquired with eager interest if there were any truth in what I had heard. He related the following story” (p. 288). If we may take St. Jerome at his word, the Life of Malchus could well be an autobiography. In any event, many generations have come to look upon these accounts as classics.

For The Fathers of the Church series in its entirety, see Fathers of the Church Series (136 vols.).

Key Features

  • Biographies that greatly inform modern scholarship
  • This collection of hagiographic accounts allows readers to learn about historical perspectives
  • One of 136 published volumes in a well-respected series on the Church Fathers

Top Highlights

“he was chosen for the office of the priesthood and the rank of bishop when still a neophyte and considered a novice” (Page 9)

“The voice of Anthony, it has been well said, is not a voice calling us to the past, but to the supernatural.” (Pages 130–131)

“and learned that his sister had grown old in her virginity and was guiding other virgins.” (Page 184)

“ he was daily a martyr to conscience in the sufferings he endured for the faith” (Page 178)

“And on this occasion, when the bishop was preaching, one of the crowd, who was filled with an unclean spirit, began to cry out that he was being tortured by Ambrose. But Ambrose, turning to him said: ‘Be silent, demon. Ambrose is not torturing you, but the faith of the saints and your own envy, since you see men ascending to the place whence you were cast down, for Ambrose does not know how to be puffed up.’ And when he had said this, the one who was crying out became silent and, prostrate on the ground, no longer made disturbing noise.” (Pages 53–54)

About the Translator

Roy J. Deferrari (1890–1969) was an administrator and professor of classics at the Catholic University of America. Born in Massachusetts, Deferrari attended Princeton University, earning a PhD in 1915. Dr. Deferrari taught classics at Princeton until World War I when he served in a US Army aero squadron. After the war, Deferrari became a professor of Greek and Latin at the Catholic University of America. Dr. Deferrari was eventually appointed secretary general of the university, a position he kept until his retirement in 1960. Dr. Deferrari also published an English translation of the Collected Letters of Saint Basil.


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    Digital list price: $39.99
    Save $9.00 (22%)