It is often assumed that early Christian asceticism drew its followers completely away from worldly concerns into the realm of pure spirituality. But the life and thought of Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria (AD 328-73), shows just how worldly--and deeply political--ascetic theology could be. David Brakke examines this important church leader's efforts to reconcile asceticism's compelling intensity with the more conventional needs of the families and everyday believers on whom the Church relied for support and stability. Brakke describes how Athanasius joined with other fourth century bishops to create a strongly unified Christian church in Egypt, bringing both the solitary monks of the desert and the female ascetics in the cities under church authority by organizing them into auxiliaries of the emerging local parishes. By carefully integrating ascetic values and practices into a comprehensive vision of the church as a heavenly commonwealth, Brakke argues, Athanasius unified a community of Christians practicing diverse versions of their faith and helped to establish the lines of administrative and pastoral authority that would be essential to the church's future success. This illuminating study of the turmoil of fourth century Christianity also includes the first English translations of many of Athanasius's ascetic and pastoral writings.