Athanasius of Naples, St.
ATHANASIUS OF NAPLES, ST.
Bishop; b. 832; d. Veroli, Italy, July 15, 872. He was a pastor of great compassion for the needs of his flock, a competent administrator, and a staunch champion of the Church against the political freebooters of the age. Rather precise details of his life may be gathered from two contemporary works: a vita by john the deacon of Naples and another more complete version by an anonymous Neapolitan, who provides also an account of the translation of his remains. His father, Sergius, came from a powerful Neapolitan family, and as defender of his city against Lombard incursions, was elected duke by his fellow citizens; Athanasius' mother, Drusa, was a noble lady.
Athanasius, destined for the clerical life from early youth, came under the tutelage of priests at the church of Santa Maria and of the saintly bishop John IV (d. 849). After the death of John, Athanasius, a deacon only eighteen years of age, was elected bishop and consecrated in Rome by Pope Gregory IV. Personally austere of life, he poured himself out in service to his flock, especially the poor, orphans, and Saracen prisoners. He rebuilt churches, reunited communities of priests and monks, and represented the interests of Naples before the emperor, who esteemed him both for holiness and for his practical conduct of affairs.
After the death of his father and his brother, Duke Gregory, Athanasius suffered the relentless persecution of his ambitious nephew, the younger Duke Sergius, who held Athanasius and other relatives prisoner despite courageous protests of the clergy of both the Latin and the Greek rites. Sergius tried to force him to renounce his episcopacy and retire into a monastery, but, rescued by Louis I the Pious, Athanasius came with honor to Benevento. Sergius's pillaging of Church property and the rebellion of the people against their bishop brought down upon the city of Naples the excommunication of adrian ii.
From 867 to 872 Athanasius sought refuge with his brother Stephen, Bishop of Sorrento, and worked indefatigably for a lifting of the ban on Naples and a return to his see. To this end he traveled to Rome and approached the emperor, who was then engaged in freeing southern Italy from Saracen incursions, but on the return trip he died at Veroli, near Monte Cassino. He was 40 years old and had governed the Church of Naples for 22 years. First buried at Monte Cassino, his body was translated to Naples five years later by his nephew Bishop Athanasius II (d. 895) and interred at the church of San Gennaro. Later, probably during the thirteenth century, his relics were translated into the cathedral church, where they are venerated in Saint Savior's chapel.
Feast: July 15.
Bibliography: Acta Sanctorum July 4 (1867) 72–89. Monumenta Germaniae Historica: Scriptores rerum Langobardicarum 433–435, 439–452, 1065–76. f. bonnard, Dictionnaire d'histoire et de géographie ecclésiastiques, ed. a. baudrillart et al. (Paris 1912) 4:1388–90. Bibliotheca hagiograpica latina antiquae et mediae aetatis (Brussels 1898–1901) 1:734–739.
[p. l. hug]