Saints of the Day – Anatolius of Alexandria

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Born in Alexandria, Egypt; died c.283. Anatolius, one of the greatest scholars of his age, headed the Aristotelian school at Alexandria. Fragments of the 10 volumes on mathematics that he wrote have come down to us, and he was also a master of geometry, physics, rhetoric, dialectic, astronomy, and philosophy. Hypercritical Saint Jerome commends his work, which should be considered high praise indeed. Constantly seeking to improve his knowledge and understanding, he turned his inquiring mind to every subject that came to hand, and not least to the mysteries of God, without whom his studies and life would have been meaningless. He viewed learning as a spiritual as well as an intellectual discipline, for it taught honesty and respect for the truth, gave the student a sense of the infinite magnitude of God’s work, and filled the soul with humility.

Despite his reputation as the leading scholar of a town famed for its scholarship, Anatolius was never conceited or arrogant. If he sometimes considered ignorance, particularly among Christians, as almost a sin, he nevertheless showed a sincere friendship for poor and uneducated people. Instead of snubbing them, he humbly set himself to learn from them, for there was always something new to be learned, some truth about man or nature.

As a scholar, and more importantly as a Christian, he knew that no piece of God’s handiwork should be passed by with indifference. Though his reason and intellect were the principal instruments he used in his search for truth, he also understood their limitations when confronted with the wider mystery of God.

His intelligence and his willingness to serve his fellow man led him to accept several important posts in the administration of his city, which at the time was part of the Roman Empire. It was thanks to him that in 263 a large number of its inhabitants was saved from starvation. A few years earlier Emilian had seized power in Alexandria and had himself proclaimed emperor, but a Roman army under Theodosius was quickly dispatched against him. Theodosius laid siege to the town, which was not expected to be able to hold out for long.

Making use of his friendship with Eusebius, a deacon who later became bishop of Laodicea, and who had accompanied the Roman army, Anatolius obtained permission for all the women, children, old men and sick people to leave Alexandria. This proved to be a tactical victory as well as an act of mercy. The besieged forces, relieved of the burden of feeding useless mouths and of caring for those who could not bear arms, were able to prolong their resistance.

Perhaps because he had dangerously compromised himself in this affair, Anatolius then left Alexandria and went to Caesarea in Palestine, where his fame had already preceded him. Theoctenes, the bishop of Caesarea, esteemed him so highly that he consecrated him as his successor and at once passed on to him a large part of his responsibilities.

In 268, they were both summoned to the Council of Antioch, but as they were passing through Laodicea they were politely but firmly stopped by the clergy and people. Eusebius, their bishop, had just died and they saw Anatolius’s sudden arrival as a gift from God. Anatolius had no choice but to accept, and it was as bishop of Laedicea that he died (Benedictines, Encyclopedia).

In art, Saint Anatolius is portrayed as a bishop with globes and mathematical books (Roeder).

MLA Citation

  • Katherine I Rabenstein. Saints of the Day, 1998. CatholicSaints.Info. 30 June 2020. Web. 10 July 2020. <>