The Roman philosopher Celsus warned his second century audience that if the "seditious rebels" called Christians were allowed to prosper, they would threaten not only ancient pagan tradition but the entire Roman order. "If everyone were to do the same as you Christians," he wrote, "there would be nothing to prevent the emperor from being abandoned, alone and deserted, while earthly things would come into the control of the most lawless and savage barbarians."

Celsus did not get it exactly right, but by the middle of the fourth century, Christians were indeed helping create a new world order. Crucial doctrinal and political battles were fought by fierce competing factions, and some of the key players were the new "martyrs," monks and hermits who had "died" to self and to the world. They opposed and attacked—sometimes physically—any authority they deemed unrighteous.


The political influence of monks was most obvious in Egypt. Even Antony, despite being a hermit and a teacher of semi-eremetic monasticism, helped shape the larger theological movements of this day. In the Arian controversy (Arius denied the divinity of Christ), he stood with the orthodox side at a time when the imperial court was Arian-dominated. It was among Egyptian monks like Antony, in fact, that Athanasius (c.296-373), bishop of Alexandria, found protection for five years when the secret police of the Emperor Constantius II, an Arian, sought to arrest him.

At one point, according to Athanasius, Antony traveled to Alexandria and "denounced the Arians, saying that their heresy was the last of all and a forerunner of Antichrist." He even called the heretics "madmen" ("Ariomaniacs" in one translation). Despite the efforts of the Arian Emperor Valens ...

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