An Introduction to the ‘Letters to Serapion on the Holy Spirit’ by Athanasius of Alexandria: Abstract and Paper

I wrote my final paper on the often ignored Letters to Serapion on the Holy Spirit written by Athanasius of Alexandria which he wrote to combat the heresy of the “Tropici” who denied the divinity of the Holy Spirit. Although it is a useful source for early Christian pneumatology it has often been ignored. This is likely because it is overshadowed by a very similar work written by Basil the Great (On the Holy Spirit). The abstract for the paper is this:

The Letters to Serapion on the Holy Spirit were written by Athanasius to address the heresy of the Tropici. These letters have been neglected by many scholars of early Christian theology. In my paper I will seek to introduce this work to a first time reader. This will include discussions on authorship, the context, the audience, and the opponents against whom this was written. Since these letters were written to combat the teaching that the Holy Spirit is a created being it is a primary source for early Patristic Pneumatology. It describes the Spirit as being closely related to the work of the Son who is the image of the Father. In other words, this is an apologetic for preserving the Trinity as Trinity.

You can download the PDF form here: LePort. An Introduction to The Letters to Serapion on the Holy Spirit by Athanasius of Alexandria


About Brian LePort

Religious Studies Instructor at TMI Episcopal (San Antonio, TX). PhD in Religion and Theology from the University of Bristol (Bristol, UK). Married to Miranda Perez. Human to a Cocker Spaniel named Frida. Fan of the San Francisco 49ers, San Francisco Giants, and Golden State Warriors.

Posted on May 5, 2010, in Th.M. Program and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. Brian, thanks for this. The paper is a great read for anyone interested in Athanasiu’s theology or early developments in pneumatology.

    I’m wondering if you’d care to comment on why you think Athanasius’ work was overshadowed by Basil’s on this. Given Athanasius’ stature in the early church, and given the post-Nicea debates regarding the nature of the Spirit, you’d think this would have generated a lot more attention.

  2. Thus far the one ‘reason’ I have come across is Athanasius used ‘energia’ to refer to the work and action of the Holy Spirit in a way that merged closely with identity. Later and contemporary anti-Spirit movements like the Pneumatakoi used that very word to depersonalize the Spirit. Therefore, Basil was able to avoid a semantic pothole that Athanasius didn’t see (probably because he wrote while in exile).

    Basil seems to have written his work a few year earlier and it faced the challenge of larger groups of anti-Spirit peoples than Athanasius did with the regionally located Tropici. These two factors seems to be additional sociological contributions.

    I think a whole paper could be written on this!

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