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Saint Athanasius of Alexandria
Icon of St Athanasius
Pope of Alexandria; Confessor and Doctor of the Church
Born around 293, Alexandria, Egypt
Died May 2, 373, Alexandria, Egypt
Venerated in Oriental Orthodoxy, Eastern Orthodoxy, Catholic Church, Lutheranism, Anglican Communion, and among the Continuing Anglican Movement
Major shrine Saint Mark Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo, Egypt
San Zaccaria, Venice, Italy
Feast May 15 = 7 Pashons, 89 A.M. (Coptic)
May 2 (Western Christianity)
January 18 (Eastern Orthodox Church)
Attributes Bishop arguing with a pagan; bishop holding an open book; bishop standing over a defeated heretic

Athanasius of Alexandria (Greek: Ἀθανάσιος, Athanásios) (c. 293 – 2 May 373), also given the titles Athanasius the Great, Pope Athanasius I of Alexandria, and Athanasius the Apostolic, was a Christian theologian, bishop of Alexandria, Church Father, and a noted Egyptian leader of the fourth century. He is best remembered for his role in the conflict with Arius and Arianism. At the First Council of Nicaea, Athanasius argued against Arius and his doctrine that Christ is of a distinct substance from the Father.[1]

Athanasius is a Doctor of the Church in the Catholic Church in communion with the Bishop of Rome, and he is counted as one of the four Great Doctors in the Eastern Orthodox Christian tradition. Athanasius' feast day is 2 May in Western Christianity, 15 May in the Coptic Orthodox Church, and 18 January in the other Eastern Orthodox churches.

Contents

Biography

Athanasius received his philosophical and theological training at Alexandria. He was ordained as a deacon by the contemporary patriarch, Alexander of Alexandria, in 319.[2] In 325, he served as Alexander's secretary at the First Council of Nicaea. Already a recognized theologian and ascetic, he was the obvious choice to replace Alexander as the Patriarch of Alexandria on the latter's death in 328,[3] despite the opposition of the followers of Arius and Meletius of Lycopolis.[2]

Athanasius spent the first years of his patriarchate visiting the churches with people of his territory, which at that time included all of Egypt and Libya. During this period, he established contacts with the hermits and monks of the desert, including Pachomius, which would be very valuable to him over the years. Shortly thereafter, Athanasius became occupied with the disputes with the Byzantine Empire and Arians which would occupy much of his life.[3]

Athanasius' first problem lay with the Meletians, who had failed to abide by the terms of the decision made at the First Council of Nicaea which had hoped to reunite them with the Church. Athanasius himself was accused of mistreating Arians and the followers of Meletius of Lycopolis, and had to answer those charges at a gathering of bishops in Tyre, the First Synod of Tyre, in 335. At that meeting, Eusebius of Nicomedia and the other supporters of Arius deposed Athanasius.[2] On November 6, both parties of the dispute met with Constantine I in Constantinople.[4] At that meeting, Athanasius was accused of threatening to interfere with the supply of grains from Egypt, and, without any kind of formal trial, was exiled by Constantine to Trier in the Rhineland.[2][3]

On the death of Emperor Constantine I, Athanasius was allowed to return to his See of Alexandria. Shortly thereafter, however, Constantine's son, the new Roman Emperor Constantius II, renewed the order for Athanasius's banishment in 338. Athanasius went to Rome, where he was under the protection of Constans, the Emperor of the West. During this time, Gregory of Cappadocia was installed as the Patriarch of Alexandria, usurping the absent Athanasius. Athanasius did however remain in contact with his people through his annual "Festal Letters", in which he also announced on which date Easter would be celebrated that year.[3]

Pope Julius I wrote to the supporters of Arius strongly urging the reinstatement of Athanasius, but that effort proved to be in vain. He called a synod in Rome in the year 341 to address the matter, and at that meeting Athanasius was found to be innocent of all the charges raised against him. Julius also called the Council of Sardica in 343. This council confirmed the decision of the earlier Roman synod, and clearly indicated that the attendees saw St Athanasius as the lawful Patriarch of Alexandria.[2] It proved no more successful, however, as only bishops from the West and Egypt bothered to appear.[3]

"Early in the year 343, Athanasius went to Gaul, hither he had gone to consult the saintly Hosius of Corduba, the great champion of orthodoxy in the West. The two together set out for the Council of Sardica which had been summoned in deference to the Roman pontiff's wishes. At this great gathering of prelates the case of Athanasius was taken up and once more his innocence reaffirmed. Two conciliar letters were prepared, one to the clergy and faithful of Alexandria, the other to the bishops of Egypt and Libya, in which the will of the Council was made known. The persecution against the othodox party broke out with renewed vigor, and Constantius II was induced to prepare drastic measures against Athanasius and the priests who were devoted to him. Orders were given that if the Saint attempted to re-enter his Episcopal see, he should be put to death".[5]

In 346, following the death of Gregory, Constans used his influence to allow Athanasius to return to Alexandria. Athanasius' return was welcomed by the majority of the people of Egypt, who had come to view him as a national hero. This was the start of a "golden decade" of peace and prosperity, during which time Athanasius assembled several documents relating to his exiles and returns from exile in the Apology Against the Arians. However, upon Constans' death in 350, a civil war broke out which left Constantius as sole emperor. Constantius, renewing his previous policies favoring the Arians, banished Athanasius from Alexandria once again. This was followed, in 356, by an attempt to arrest Athanasius during a vigil service. Following this, Athanasius left for Upper Egypt, where he stayed in several monasteries and other houses. During this period, Athanasius completed his work Four Orations against the Arians and defended his own recent conduct in the Apology to Constantius and Apology for His Flight. Constantius' persistence in his opposition to Athanasius, combined with reports Athanasius received about persecution of non-Arians by the new Arian bishop George of Laodicea, prompted Athanasius to write his more emotional History of the Arians, in which he described Constantius as a precursor of the Antichrist.[3]

In 361, after the death of Emperor Constantius, shortly followed by the murder of the very unpopular Bishop George, the popular St Athanasius now had the opportunity to return to his Patriarchate. The following year he convened a council at Alexandria at which he appealed for unity among all those who had faith in Christianity, even if they differed on matters of terminology. This prepared the groundwork for the definition of the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity. In 362, the new Emperor Julian, noted for his opposition to Christianity, ordered Athanasius to leave Alexandria once again. Athanasius left for Upper Egypt, remaining there until Julian's death in 363. Two years later, the Emperor Valens, who favored the Arian position, in his turn exiled Athanasius. This time however, Athanasius simply left for the outskirts of Alexandria, where he stayed for only a few months before the local authorities convinced Valens to retract his order of exile.[3] Some of the early reports explicitly indicate that Athanasius spent this period of exile in his ancestral tomb.[2]

Valens, who seems to have sincerely dreaded the possible consequences of a popular outbreak, gave orders within a few weeks for the return of Athanasius to his Episcopal see. He, Saint Athanasius, spent his remaining days, characteristically enough, in re-emphasizing the view of the Incarnation which had been defined at Nicaea. He died peacefully in his own bed, surrounded by his clergy and faithful.[5]

Works

Athanasius other works include his two-part "Against the Heathen" and "The Incarnation of the Word of God". Completed probably early in his life, before the Arian controversy,[6] they constitute the first classic work of developed Orthodox theology. In the first part, Athanasius attacks several Pagan practices and beliefs. The second part presents teachings on the redemption.[2] Also in these books, Athanasius put forward the belief that the Son of God, the eternal Word through whom God created the world, entered that world in human form to lead men back into the harmony from which they had earlier fallen away. This work intentionally challenged the doctrines of Arianism, which stated that the Son was a lesser entity than the Father. His other important works include his Letters to Serapion, which dealt with the divinity of the Holy Spirit, and his classic Life of St Anthony, which was translated into several languages and played an important role in the spreading of the ascetic ideal in Eastern and Western Christianity.[3] He also wrote several works of Biblical exegesis, primarily of volumes in the Old Testament, which are preserved in excerpts regarding the Book of Genesis, the Song of Solomon, and Psalms. His works on ascetism, include the aforementioned Life of St. Anthony, as well as a Discourse on Virginity, a short work on Love and Self-Control, and a treatise On Sickness and Health which is only preserved in fragments.

Athanasius' letters include one "Letter Concerning the Decrees of the Council of Nicaea" (De Decretis), which is an account of the proceedings of that Council, and another letter in the year 367 which was the first known listing of the New Testament including all those books now accepted everywhere as the New Testament.[2] (earlier similar lists vary by the omission or addition of a few books, see Development of the New Testament canon). Several of his letters also survive. In one of these, to Epictetus of Corinth, Athanasius anticipates future controversies in his defense of the humanity of Christ. Another of his letters, to Dracontius, urges that monk to leave the desert for the more active duties of a bishop.[3]

There are several other works ascribed to him, although not necessarily generally accepted as being his own work. These include the Athanasian creed, which is today generally seen as being of 5th century Galician origin.[2]

Athanasius was not what would be called a speculative theologian. As he stated in his First Letters to Serapion, he held on to "the tradition, teaching, and faith proclaimed by the apostles and guarded by the fathers."[2] In some cases, this led to his taking the position that faith should take priority over reason. He held that not only the Son of God was consubstantial with the Father, but so also was the Holy Spirit, which held a great deal of influence in the development of later doctrines regarding the trinity.[2]

Veneration

Athanasius' Shrine (where his relics are preserved) under St. Mark's Cathedral, Cairo

St. Athanasius was originally buried in Alexandria, Egypt but his body was later transferred to Italy. During Pope Shenouda III's visit to Rome from May 4 to May 10, 1973, Pope Paul VI gave the Coptic Patriarch the relics of Athanasius,[7] which he brought back to Egypt on 15 May.[8] The relics of St Athanasius the Great of Alexandria are currently preserved under the new Saint Mark Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Deir El-Anba Rowais, Abbassiya, Cairo, Egypt.

The following is a troparion (hymn) to Saint Athanasius sung in some Eastern Orthodox churches.

O Holy father Athanasius,
like a pillar of orthodoxy
you refuted the heretical nonsense of Arius
by insisting that the Father and the Son are equal in essence.
O venerable father, beg Christ our God to save our souls.

Athanasius is venerated as a saint by the majority of major Christian denominations which officially approve of and recognize saints. His feast day is observed on May 2, the day of his death. In the Roman Catholic Church he is deemed a Doctor of the Church.

He has been hailed as "the pillar of the Church" by Gregory of Nazianzus.[2]

St. Gregory Nazianzen, fellow Doctor of the Church,330-390, said in Or.21: "When I praise Athanasius, virtue itself is my theme: for I name every virtue as often as I mention him who was possessed of all virtues. He was the true pillar of the Church. His life and conduct were the rule of bishops, and his doctrine the rule of the orthodox faith."[5]

Historical significance

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Early life

The Alexandria of his boyhood was an epitome—intellectually, morally, and politically—of the ethnically diverse Graeco-Roman world. It was the most important center of trade in the whole empire; and its primacy as an emporium of ideas was more commanding than that of Rome or Constantinople, Antioch or Marseilles. Its famous "Catechetical School", while sacrificing none of its famous passion for orthodoxy since the days of Pantaenus, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen of Alexandria, had begun to take on an almost secular character in the comprehensiveness of its interests, and had counted influential pagans among its serious auditors.[9]

St. Athanasius seems to have been brought early in life under the immediate supervision of the ecclesiastical authorities of his native city. A story has been preserved by Rufinus (Hist. Eccl., I, xiv). The bishop Alexander, so the tale runs, had invited a number of fellow prelates to meet him at breakfast after a great religious function. While Alexander was waiting for his guests to arrive, he stood by a window, watching a group of boys at play on the seashore below the house. He had not observed them long before he discovered that they were imitating the elaborate ritual of Christian baptism. He sent for the children and, in the investigation that followed, it was discovered that one of the boys (none other than Athanasius), had acted the part of the bishop, and in that character had actually baptized several of his companions in the course of their play. Alexander determined to recognize the make-believe baptisms as genuine, and decided that Athanasius and his playfellows should go into training in order to prepare themselves for a clerical career.

Sozomen speaks of his "fitness for the priesthood", and calls attention to the significant circumstance that he was "from his tenderest years practically self-taught". "Not long after this," adds the same authority, the Bishop Alexander "invited Athanasius to be his commensal and secretary. He had been well educated, and was versed in grammar and rhetoric, and had already, while still a young man, and before reaching the episcopate, given proof to those who dwelt with him of his wisdom and acumen" (Soz., II, xvii). That "wisdom and acumen" manifested themselves in a varied environment. While still a deacon under Alexander's care, he seems to have been brought for a while into close relations with some of the solitaries of the Egyptian desert, and in particular with the Anthony the Great, whose life he is said to have written.

Opposition to Arianism

In about 319, when Athanasius was a deacon, a presbyter named Arius came into a direct conflict with Alexander of Alexandria. It appears that Arius reproached Alexander for what he felt were misguided or heretical teachings being taught by the bishop.[10] Arius’ theological views appear to have been firmly rooted in Alexandrian Christianity, and his Christological views were certainly not radical at all.[11] He embraced a subordinationist Christology (that God did not have a beginning, but the Logos did), heavily influenced by Alexandrian thinkers like Origen,[12] which was a commonChristological view in Alexandria at the time.[13] Support for Arius from powerful Bishops like Eusebius of Caesarea[14] and Eusebius of Nicomedia,[15] further illustrate how Arius' subordinationist Christology was shared by other Christians in the Empire. Arius was subsequently excommunicated by Alexander, and he would begin to elicit the support of many bishops who agreed with his position. Athanasius may have accompanied Alexander to the First Council of Nicaea in 325, the council which produced the Nicene Creed and anathematized Arius and his followers. On May 9 328, he succeeded Alexander as bishop of Alexandria. As a result of rises and falls in Arianism's influence after the First Council of Nicaea, Emperor Constantine I banished him from Alexandria to Trier in the Rhineland, but he was restored after the death of Constantine I by the emperor's son Constantine II. In 359, Athanasius was banished once again. This time he went to Rome, and spent seven years there before returning to Alexandria. The years from 346 through 356 were a relatively peaceful period for Athanasius, and some of his most important writings were composed during this period. Unfortunately, the emperor Constantinus II seems to have been committed to having Athanasius deposed, and went so far as to send soldiers to arrest Athanasius. Athanasius went into hiding in the desert with the Desert Fathers, and continued in his capacity as bishop from there until the death of Constantinus in 361.

At the Council of 326, Athanasius of Alexandria was elected to succeed the aged Alexander, and various heresies and schisms of Egypt were denounced. In 340, one hundred bishops met at Alexandria, declared in favour of Athanasius, and vigorously rejected the criticisms of the Eusebian faction at Tyre. At a council in 350, St. Athanasius was replaced in his see. In 362 was held one of the most important of these councils. It was presided over by St. Athanasius and St. Eusebius of Vercelli, and was directed against those who denied the divinity of the Holy Spirit, the human soul of God, and God's divinity. Mild measures were agreed on for those apostate bishops who repented, but severe penance was decreed for the chief leaders of the major heresies.

In 363, another council met under St. Athanasius for the purpose of submitting to the new Roman Emperor Jovian an account of the truth faith. Somewhat similar was the purpose of the Council of 364.[16]

There were two more brief periods when Athanasius was exiled. In the spring of 365, after the accession of Emperor Valens to the throne, troubles again arose. Athanasius was once more compelled to seek safety from his persecutors in concealment (October 365), which lasted, however, only for four months.

From 366 he was able to serve as bishop in peace until his death. Athanasius was restored on at least five separate occasions, perhaps as many as seven. This gave rise to the expression "Athanasius contra mundum" or "Athanasius against the world".

He spent his final years in repairing all the damage done during the earlier years of violence, dissent, and exile, and returning to his writing and preaching undisturbed. On 2 May 373, having consecrated Peter II, one of his presbyters as his successor, he died quietly in his own house.

Writings

Athanasius spent a good deal of his energy on polemical writings against his theological opponents. Examples include: Orations Against the Arians, his defence of the divinity of the Holy Spirit (Letters to Serapion in the 360s, and On the Holy Spirit) against Macedonianism and "On the Incarnation".

Arguably his most read work is his biography of Anthony the Great entitled Vita Antonii, or Life of Antony. This biography depicts Anthony as an illiterate and holy man who through his existence in a primordial landscape has an absolute connection to the divine truth, which always is synonymous with that of Athanasius as the biographer.[17] It later served as an inspiration to Christian monastics in both the East and the West. The so-called Athanasian Creed dates from well after Athanasius's death and draws upon the phraseology of Augustine's De trinitate.

In Coptic literature St. Athanasius is the first patriarch of Alexandria to use Coptic, as well as Greek in his writings.[18]

New Testament canon

Athanasius is also the first person to identify the same 27 books of the New Testament that are in use today. Up until then, various similar lists of works to be read in churches were in use. A milestone in the evolution of the canon of New Testament books is his Easter letter from Alexandria, written in 367, usually referred to as his 39th Festal Letter. Pope Damasus, the Bishop of Rome in 382, promulgated a list of books which contained a New Testament canon identical to that of Athanasius.[citation needed] A synod in Hippo in 393 repeated Athanasius' and Damasus' New Testament list (without the Epistle to the Hebrews), and a synod in Carthage in 397 repeated Athanasius' and Damasus' complete New Testament list.

Scholars have debated whether Athanasius' list in 367 was the basis for the later lists. Because Athanasius' canon is the closest canon of any of the Church Fathers to the canon used by Protestant churches today, many Protestants point to Athanasius as the father of the canon. They are identical except that Athanasius includes the Book of Baruch and the Letter of Jeremiah and places the Book of Esther among the "7 books not in the canon but to be read" along with the Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach (Ecclesiasticus), Judith, Tobit, the Didache, and the Shepherd of Hermas.[19] See the article, Biblical canon, for more details.

Recent Opinions

Statue of the saint in St Athanasius' Roman Catholic Church in Evanston, Illinois.

There are at present two completely opposite views about the personality of Athanasius. While some scholars praise him as an orthodox saint with great character, others see him as a power-hungry politician who employed questionable ecclesiastical tactics.

Critics of Athanasius

Richard Rubenstein and Timothy Barnes have painted a less than flattering picture of the saint. They argue that his ascension to the station of Bishop in Alexandria occurred under questionable circumstances. Upon the death of his predecessor Alexander, in 328 A.D., more than fifty bishops gathered to confer a new leader to the Alexandrian see. While Alexander had been priming Athanasius to assume the bishopric after his death, it is said, he was not unanimously supported, and questions of his age (the minimum age to become a bishop was thirty, and questions remain to this day if he was yet that old), as well as less than overwhelming support, did not help his candidacy. According to recent academics, Athanasius, growing impatient, took a small number of bishops who supported his claim, and held a private consecration making him bishop.[20]

Throughout most of his career, Athanasius had many detractors. There were allegations of defiling an altar, selling Church grain that had been meant to feed the poor for his own personal gain, and for suppressing dissent through violence and murder.[21] It cannot be claimed, beyond all doubt, whether any or all of these specific allegations were true, but Rubenstein suggests that Athanasius employed a level of force when it suited his cause or personal interests.[22]

Supporters of Athanasius

However, there are also many modern historians who object to this view and point out that such hostile attitude towards Athanasius is based on an unfair judgment of historical sources.[23] Many Christian denominations revere Athanasius as a saint, teacher, and father. They cite his defense of the Christology described in the first chapter of the Gospel of John ("In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God" (John 1:1,2)) and his significant theological works (C.S. Lewis calls his De Incarnatione a "masterpiece"[citation needed]) as evidence of his righteousness. They also emphasize his close relationship with Saint Anthony, who is almost universally revered throughout Christendom.

St. Gregory Nazianzen, 330-390, begins Or. 21 with: "When I praise Athanasius, vertue itself is my theme: for I name every vertue as often as I mention him who was possessed of all vertues. He was the true pillar of the church. His life and conduct were the rule of bishops, and his doctrine the rule of the orthodox faith."[5]

St Pius X, said in a letter to philosopher-friend and correspondent in the closing years of his life, (Epist. lxxi, ad Max.): "Let what was confessed by the fathers of Nicaea prevail".[5]

Anti-Arianism

Athanasius presented his opponents, the Arians, as a cohesive group that backed Arius’ views and followed him as a leader. It is now accepted by most scholars that the Arian Party were not a monolithic group,[24] holding drastically different theological views that spanned the early Christian theological spectrum.[25][26][27] They supported the tenets of Origenist thought and theology,[28] but had little else in common. The term Arian was first coined by Athanasius to describe both followers of Arius, and followers of ideas that he deemed as bad as Arius'. Athanasius used the term Arian to describe many of his opponents, except for Meletians.[29] He used the term in a derogatory fashion to chide Arius’ supporters[30] who did not see themselves as followers of Arius.[31] As stated by Timothy Barnes; Athanasius used “invented dialogue to ridicule his adversaries”, and used “suppression and distortion” to serve his own means.[32] He often blamed charges and accusations leveled at him on “Arian madmen” who he claimed conspired to destroy him and Christianity.[citation needed]The Arian party, as described by Athanasius, may not have existed in the form he portrayed it in his writings. Some argue that the view of Arianism that exists to this day among most Christians would not have existed were it not for Athanasius. However, others point to the Council of Nicaea as proof in and of itself that Arianism was a real theological ideology. While Athanasius may have affected the general perception of Arianism, they say, his portrayal was polemical, not creative.

See also

Notes

  1. ^ Durant, Will. Caesar and Christ. New York: Simon and Schuster. 1972.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Encyclopedia Americana, vol. 2 Danbury, Connecticut: Grolier Incorporated, 1997. ISBN 0-7172-0129-5.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i Encyclopedia Britannica, 15th edition. Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc. ISBN 0-85229-633-0.
  4. ^ Barnes, Timothy D., Athanasius and Constantius: Theology and Politics in the Constantinian Empire (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1993), 23
  5. ^ a b c d e Clifford, Cornelius, Catholic Encyclopedia 1930, Volume 2, Pgs: 35-40 "Athanasius".
  6. ^ Justo L. Gonzalez in A History of Christian Thought notes (p292) that E. Schwartz places this work later, around 335, but "his arguments have not been generally accepted". The introduction to the CSMV translation of On the Incarnation places the work in 318, around the time Athanasius was ordained to the diaconate (St Athanasius On the Incarnation, Mowbray, England 1953)
  7. ^ Metropolitan Bishoy of Damiette
  8. ^ Saint Athanasius
  9. ^ Eusebius, Hist. Eccl., VI, xix
  10. ^ Kannengiesser, Charles, “Alexander and Arius of Alexandria: The last Ante-Nicene theologians”, Miscelanea En Homenaje Al P. Antonio Orbe Compostellanum Vol. XXXV, no. 1-2. (Santiago de Compostela, 1990),398
  11. ^ Williams, Rowan, Arius: Heresy and Tradition (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1987),175
  12. ^ Williams, 175
  13. ^ Williams 154-155
  14. ^ Arius letter to Eusebius of Nicomedia
  15. ^ Alexander of Alexandria's Catholoic Epistle
  16. ^  "Councils of Alexandria". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913. http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Catholic_Encyclopedia_(1913)/Councils_of_Alexandria. 
  17. ^ Dag Øistein Endsjø Primordial landscapes, incorruptible bodies. Desert asceticism and the Christian appropriation of Greek ideas on geography, bodies, and immortality. New York: Peter Lang 2008.
  18. ^ encyclopedia britannica
  19. ^ Excerpt from Letter 39
  20. ^ Rubenstein, Richard E., When Jesus Became God: The Epic Fight over Christ’s Divinity in the Last Days of Rome (New York: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1999), 105-106
  21. ^ Barnes, Timothy D., Athanasius and Constantius: Theology and Politics in the Constantinian Empire (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1993),37
  22. ^ Rubenstein,106
  23. ^ Arnold, 24-99; Ng, 273-292.
  24. ^ Haas, Christopher, “The Arians of Alexandria”, Vigiliae Christianae Vol. 47, no. 3 (1993), 239
  25. ^ Chadwick, Henry, “Faith and Order at the Council of Nicaea”, Harvard Theological Review LIII (Cambridge Mass: 1960),173
  26. ^ Williams, 63
  27. ^ Kannengiesser "Alexander and Arius", 403
  28. ^ Kannengiesser, “Athanasius of Alexandria vs. Arius: The Alexandrian Crisis”, in The Roots of Egyptian Christianity (Studies in Antiquity and Christianity), ed. Birger A. Pearson and James E. Goehring (1986),208
  29. ^ Barnes "Athanasius and Constantius",135
  30. ^ Barnes "Athanasius and Constantius",14
  31. ^ Williams, 82
  32. ^ Barnes "Athanasius and Constantius",128

References

  • Arnold, Duane W.-H., The Early Episcopal Career of Athanasius of Alexandria (1991)
  • Alexander of Alexandria "Catholic Epistle", The Ecole Initiative, http://ecole.evansville.edu/arians/alex1.htm
  • Arius, “Arius’ letter to Eusebius of Nicomedia”, Ecclesiastical History, ed. Theodoret. Ser. 2, Vol. 3, 41, The Ecole Initiative, http://ecole.evansville.edu/arians/arius1.htm
  • Attwater, Donald and Catherine Rachel John. The Penguin Dictionary of Saints. 3rd edition. (New York: Penguin, 1993). ISBN 0-140-51312-4.
  • Barnes, Timothy D., Athanasius and Constantius: Theology and Politics in the Constantinian Empire (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993).
  • Barnes, Timothy D., Constantine and Eusebius (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1981)
  • Brakke, David. Athanasius and the Politics of Asceticism (1995)
  • Clifford, Cornelius, "Athanasius", Catholic Encyclipedia Vol. 2 (1930), 35-40
  • Chadwick, Henry, “Faith and Order at the Council of Nicaea”, Harvard Theological Review LIII (Cambridge Mass: Harvard University Press, 1960), 171-195.
  • Endsjø, Dag Øistein. Primordial landscapes, incorruptible bodies. Desert asceticism and the Christian appropriation of Greek ideas on geography, bodies, and immortality. (New York: Peter Lang, 2008)
  • Ernest, James D., The Bible in Athanasius of Alexandria (Leiden: Brill, 2004).
  • Haas, Christopher “The Arians of Alexandria”, Vigiliae Christianae Vol. 47, no. 3 (1993), 234-245.
  • Hanson, R.P.C., The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God: The Arian Controversy, 318-381 (T.&T. Clark 1988)
  • Kannengiesser, Charles, “Alexander and Arius of Alexandria: The last Ante-Nicene theologians”, Miscelanea En Homenaje Al P. Antonio Orbe Compostellanum Vol. XXXV, no. 1-2. (Santiago de Compostela, 1990), 391-403.
  • Kannengiesser, Charles “Athanasius of Alexandria vs. Arius: The Alexandrian Crisis”, in The Roots of Egyptian Christianity (Studies in Antiquity and Christianity), ed. Birger A. Pearson and James E. Goehring (1986), 204-215.
  • Ng, Nathan K. K., The Spirituality of Athanasius (1991)
  • Rubenstein, Richard E., When Jesus Became God: The Epic Fight over Christ’s Divinity in the Last Days of Rome (New York: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1999).
  • Williams, Rowan: "Arius, Heresy and Tradition": (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1987).

External links

Preceded by
Alexander
Pope of Alexandria
328–373
or
328-339
346-373
Succeeded by
Peter II

Gregory of Cappadocia (Anti-patriarch, not acknowledged)
Peter II

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

ATHANASIUS (293-373), bishop of Alexandria and saint, one of the most illustrious defenders of the Christian faith, was born probably at Alexandria. Of his family and of his early education nothing can be said to be known. According to the legend, the boy is said to have once baptized some of his playmates and thereupon to have been taken into his house"by Bishop Alexander, who recognized the validity of this proceeding. It is certain that Athanasius was young when he took orders, and that he must soon have entered into close relations with his bishop, whom, after the outbreak of the Arian controversy, he accompanied as archdeacon to the council of Nicaea. In the sessions and discussions of the council he could take no part; but in unofficial conferences he took sides vigorously, according to his own evidence, against the Arians, and was certainly not without influence. He had already, before the opening of the Council, defined his personal attitude towards the dogmatic problem in two essays, Against the Gentiles and On the Incarnation, without, however, any special relation to the Arian controversy.

The essay On the Incarnation is the locus classicus for the presentation of the teaching of the ancient church on the subject of salvation. In this the great idea that God himself had entered into humanity becomes dominant. The doom of death under which mankind had sighed since Adam's fall could only then be averted, when the immortal Word of God (Alyos) assumed a mortal body, and, by yielding this to death for the sake of all, abrogated once for all the law of death, of which the power had been spent on the body of the Lord. Thus was rendered possible the leading back of mankind to God, of which the sure pledge lies in the grace of the resurrection of Christ. Athanasius would hear of no questioning of this religious mystery. In the catchword Homousios, which had been added to the creed at Nicaea, he too recognized the best formula for the expression of the mystery, although in his own writings he made but sparing use of it. He was in fact less concerned with the formula than with the content. Arians and Semi-Arians seemed to him to be pagans, who worship the creature, instead of the God who created all things, since they teach two gods, one having no beginning, the other having a beginning in Time and therefore of the same nature as the heathen gods, since, like them, he is a creature. Athanasius has no terms for the definition of the Persons in the one " Divine " (ro OEiov), which are in their substance one; and yet he is certain that this "Divine" is not a mere abstraction, but something truly personal: " They are One," so he wrote later in his Discourses against the Arians, " not as though the unity were torn into two parts, which outside the unity would be nothing, nor as though the unity bore two, names, so that one and the same is at one time Father and then his own Son, as the heretic Sabellius imagined. But they are two, for the Father is Father, and the Son is not the same, but, again, the Son is Son, and not the Father himself. But their Nature (4)uo-ts) is one, for the Begotten is not dissimilar (av6µotoc) to the Begetter, but his image, and everything that is the Father's is also the Son's." Five months after the return from the council of Nicaea Bishop Alexander died; and on the 8th of February 326 Athanasius, at the age of thirty-three, became his successor. The first years of his episcopate were tranquil; then the storms in which the remainder of his life was passed began to gather round him. The council had by no means composed the divisions in the Church which the Arian controversy had provoked. Arius himself still lived, and his friend Eusebius of Nicomedia rapidly regained influence over the emperor Constantine. The result was a demand made by the emperor that Arius should be readmitted to communion. Athanasius stood firm, but many accusers soon rose up against one who was known to be under the frown of the imperial displeasure. He was charged with cruelty, even with sorcery and murder. It was reported that a bishop of the Meletian party (see MELETIus). in the Thebaid, of the name of Arsenius, had been unlawfully put to death by him. He was easily able to clear himself of these charges; but the hatred of his enemies was not relaxed, and in the summer of 335 he was peremptorily ordered to appear at Tyre, where a council had been summoned to sit in judgment upon his conduct. There appeared plainly a predetermination to condemn him, and he fled from Tyre to Constantinople to appeal to the emperor himself. Refused at first a hearing, his perseverance was at length rewarded by the emperor's assent to his reasonable request that his accusers should be brought face to face with him in the imperial presence. Accordingly the leaders of the council, the most conspicuous of whom were Eusebius of Nicomedia and his namesake of Caesarea, were summoned to Constantinople. Here they did not attempt to repeat their old charges, but found a more effective weapon to their hands in a new charge of a political kind - that Athanasius had threatened to stop the Alexandrian corn-ships bound for Constantinople. It is very difficult to understand how far there was truth in the persistent accusations made against the prince-bishop of Alexandria. Probably there was in the very greatness of his character and the extent of his popular influence a certain species of dominance which lent a colour of truth to some of the things said against him. On the present occasion his accusers succeeded at once in arousing the imperial jealousy. Without obtaining a hearing, he was banished at the end of 335 to Treves in Gaul. This was the first banishment of Athanasius, which lasted about one year and a half. It was brought to a close by the death of Constantine, and the accession as emperor of the West of Constantine II., who, in June 337, allowed Athanasius to return to Alexandria.

He reached his see on the 23rd of November 337, and, as he himself has told us, " the people ran in crowds to see his face; the churches were full of rejoicing; thanksgivings were everywhere offered up; the ministers and clergy thought the day the happiest in their lives." But this period of happiness was destined to be short-lived. His position as bishop of Alexandria placed him, not under his patron Constantine, but under Constantius, another son of the elder Constantine, who had succeeded to the throne of the East. He in his turn fell, as his father had done in later years, under the influence of Eusebius of Nicomedia, who in the latter half of 339 was transferred to the see of Constantinople, the new seat of the imperial court. A second expulsion of Athanasius was accordingly resolved upon. The old accusations against him were revived, and he was further charged with having set at naught the decision of a council. On the 18th of March 339 the exarch of Egypt suddenly confronted Athanasius with an imperial edict, by which he was deposed and a Cappadocian named Gregory was nominated bishop in his place. On the following day, after tumultuous scenes, Athanasius fled, and four days later Gregory was installed by the aid of the soldiery. On the first opportunity, Athanasius went to Rome, to " lay his case before the church." A synod assembled at Rome in the autumn of 340, and the great council - probably that which met at Sardica in 342 or 343, where the Orientals refused to meet the representatives of the Western church - declared him guiltless. This decision, however, had no immediate effect in favour of Athanasius. Constantius continued for some time implacable, and the bold action of the Western bishops only incited the Arian party in Alexandria to fresh severities. But the death of the intruder Gregory, on the 26th of June 345, opened up a way of reconciliation. Constantius decided to yield to the importunity of his brother Constans, who had succeeded Constantine II. in the West; and the result was the restoration of Athanasius for the second time, on the 21st of October 346. Again he returned to Alexandria amid the enthusiastic demonstrations of the populace, which is described by Gregory of Nazianzus, in his panegyric on Athanasius, as streaming forth like " another Nile " to meet him afar off as he approached the city.

The six years of his residence in the West had given Athanasius the opportunity of displaying a momentous activity. He made long journeys in Italy, in Gaul, and as far as Belgium. Everywhere he laboured for the Nicene faith, and the impression made by his personality was so great that to hold fast the orthodox faith and to defend Athanasius were for many people one and the same thing. This was shown when, after the death of the emperor Constans, Constantius became sole ruler of East and West. With the help of counsellors more subtle than discerning, the emperor, with the object of uniting the various parties in the Church at any cost, sought for the most colourless possible formula of belief, which he hoped to persuade all the bishops to accept. As his efforts remained for years fruitless, he used force. " My will is your guiding-line," he exclaimed in the summer of 355 to the bishops who had assembled at Milan in response to his orders. A series of his most defiant oppdnents had to go into banishment, Liberius of Rome, Hilarius of Poitiers and Hosius of Corduba, the last-named once the confidant of Constantine and the actual originator of the Ho y nousios, and now nearly a hundred years old. At length came the turn of Athanasius, now almost the sole upholder of the banner of the Nicene creed in the East. Several attempts to expel him failed owing to the attitude of the populace. On the night of the 8th9th of February 356, however, when the bishop was holding the Vigils, soldiers and police broke into the church of Theonas. Athanasius himself has described the scene for us: " I was seated upon my chair, the deacon was about to read the psalm, the people to answer, ` For his mercy endureth for ever.' The solemn act was interrupted; a panic arose." The bishop, who was at first unwilling to save himself, until he knew that his faithful followers were in safety, succeeded in escaping, leaving the town and finding a hiding-place in the country. The solitudes of Upper Egypt, where numerous monasteries and hermitages had been planted, seem at this time to have been his chief shelter. In this case, benefit was repayed by benefit, for Athanasius during his episcopate had been a zealous promoter of asceticism and monachism. With Anthony the hermit and Pachomius the founder of monasteries, he had maintained personal relations, and the former he had commemorated in his Life of Anthony. During his exile his time was occupied in writing on behalf of his cause, and to this period belong some of his most important works, above all the great Orations or Discourses against the Arians, which furnish the best exposition of his theological principles.

During his absence the see of Alexandria was left without a pastor. It is true that George of Cappadocia had taken his place; but he could only maintain himself for a short while (February 357 - October 358). The great majority of the population remained faithful to the exile. At length, in November 361, the way was opened to him for his return to his see by the death of Constantius. Julian, who succeeded to the imperial throne, professed himself indifferent to the contentions of the Church, and gave permission to the bishops exiled in the late reign to return home. Among others, Athanasius availed himself of this permission, and in February 362 once more seated himself upon his throne, amid the rejoicings of the people. He had begun his episcopal labours with renewed ardour, and assembled his bishops in Alexandria to decide various important questions, when an imperial mandate again - for the fourth time - drove him from his place of power. The faithful gathered around him weeping. " Be of good heart," he said, " it is but a cloud: it will pass." His forecast proved true; for within a few months Julian had closed his brief career of pagan revival. As early as September 363, Athanasius was able to travel to Jovian, the new emperor, who had sent him a letter praising his Christian fidelity and encouraging him to resume his work. He returned to Alexandria on the 10th of February 364. With the emperor he continued to maintain friendly relations; but the period of repose was short. In the spring of 365, after the accession of Valens to the throne, troubles again arose. Athanasius was once more compelled to seek safety from his persecutors in concealment (October 365), which lasted, however, only for four months. In February 366 he resumed his episcopal labours, in which he henceforth remained undisturbed. On the 2nd of May 373, having consecrated one of his presbyters as his successor, he died quietly in his own house.

Athanasius was a man of action, but he also knew how to use his pen for the furtherance of his cause. He left a large number of writings, which cannot of course be compared with those of an Origen, a Basil, or a Gregory of Nyssa. Athanasius was no systematic theologian. All his treatises are occasional pieces, born of controversy and intended for controversial ends. The interest in abstract exposition of clearly formulated theological ideas is everywhere subordinate to the polemical purpose. But all these writings are instinct with a living personal faith, and serve for the defence of the cause; for it was not about words that he was contending. Even those who do not sympathize with the cause which Athanasius steadfastly defended cannot but admire his magnanimous and heroic character. If he was imperious in temper and inflexible in his conception of the Christian faith, he possessed a great heart and a great intellect, inspired with an enthusiastic devotion to Christ. As a theologian, his main distinction was his zealous advocacy of the essential divinity of Christ. Christianity in its Arian conception would have evaporated in a new polytheism. To have set a dam against this process with the whole force of a mighty personality constitutes the importance of Athanasius in the world's history. It is with good reason that the Church honours him as the " Great," and as the " Father of Orthodoxy." The best edition of the works of Athanasius is the so-called Maurine edition of Bernard de Montfaucon in 3 vols. (Paris, 1698); this was enlarged in the 3rd edition by Giustiniani (4 vols., Padua, 1777), and is printed in this form in Migne's Patrologia, vols. xxv.-xxviii. An English translation of selections, with excellent introductions to the several writings, was published by Archibald Robertson in the Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, second series, vol. 4 (Oxford and New York, 1892). There is no biography satisfactory from the modern point of view. Studies preliminary to such a biography began to be published by E. Schwartz in his essays, " Zur Geschichte des Athanasius " (in the Nachrichten der koniglichen Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften zu Göttingen, 1904, &c.). The life of Athanasius, however, is so completely intertwined with the history of his time that it is permissible to refer, for a knowledge of him, to the general descriptions which will be found at the close of the article ARIUS. Of the older literature, Tillemont's Memoires pour servir ¢ l'histoire ecclesiastique des six premiers siecles, vols. vi. and viii., are still a mine of material for the historian. Of the newer literature the following deserve to be read: - Johann Adam Mohler, Athanasius der Grosse and die Kirche seiner Zeit, 2 vols. (2nd ed., Mainz, 1844); and Fr. Boehringer, " Arius and Athanasius," Die Kirche Christi and ihre Zeugen, vol. i. part 2 (2nd ed., Stuttgart, 1874). (G. K.)


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Bishop of Alexandria; Confessor and Doctor of the Church; born c. 296; died 2 May, 373. Athanasius was the greatest champion of Catholic belief on the subject of the Incarnation that the Church has ever known and in his lifetime earned the characteristic title of "Father of Orthodoxy", by which he has been distinguished every since. While the chronology of his career still remains for the most part a hopelessly involved problem, the fullest material for an account of the main achievements of his life will be found in his collected writings and in the contemporary records of his time. He was born, it would seem, in Alexandria, most probably between the years 296 and 298. An earlier date, 293, is sometimes assigned as the more certain year of his birth; and it is supported apparently by the authority of the "Coptic Fragment" (published by Dr. O. von Lemm among the Mémoires de l'académie impériale des sciences de S. Péterbourg, 1888) and corroborated by the undoubted maturity of judgement revealed in the two treatises "Contra Gentes" and "De Incarnatione", which were admittedly written about the year 318 before Arianism as a movement had begun to make itself felt. It must be remembered, however, that in two distinct passages of his writings (Hist. Ar., lxiv, and De Syn., xviii) Athanasius shrinks from speaking as a witness at first hand of the persecution which had broken out under Maximian in 303; for in referring to the events of this period he makes no direct appeal to his own personal recollections, but falls back, rather, on tradition. Such reserve would scarcely be intelligible, if, on the hypothesis of the earlier date, the Saint had been then a boy fully ten years old. Besides, there must have been some semblance of a foundation in fact for the charge brought against him by his accusers in after-life (Index to the Festal Letters) that at the times of his consecration to the episcopate in 328 he had not yet attained the canonical age of thirty years. These considerations, therefore, even if they are found to be not entirely convincing, would seem to make it likely that he was born not earlier than 296 nor later than 298.

It is impossible to speak more than conjecturally of his family. Of the claim that it was both prominent and well-to-do, we can only observe that the tradition to the effect is not contradicted by such scanty details as can be gleaned from the saint's writings. Those writings undoubtedly betray evidences of the sort of education that was given, for the most part, only to children and youths of a better class. It began with grammar, went on to rhetoric, and received its final touches under some one of the more fashionable lecturers in the philosophic schools. It is possible, of course, that he owed his remarkable training in letters to his saintly predecessor's favour, if not to his personal care. But Athanasius was one of those rare personalities that derive incomparably more from their own native gifts of intellect and character than from the fortuitousness of descent or environment. His career almost personifies a crisis in the history of Christianity; and he may be said rather to have shaped the events in which he took part than to have been shaped by them. Yet it would be misleading to urge that he was in no notable sense a debtor to the time and place of his birth. The Alexandria of his boyhood was an epitome, intellectually, morally, and politically, of that ethnically many-coloured Graeco-Roman world, over which the Church of the fourth and fifth centuries was beginning at last, with undismayed consciousness, after nearly three hundred years of unwearying propagandism, to realize its supremacy. It was, moreover, the most important centre of trade in the whole empire; and its primacy as an emporium of ideas was more commanding than that of Rome or Constantinople, Antioch or Marseilles. Already, in obedience to an instinct of which one can scarcely determine the full significance without studying the subsequent development of Catholicism, its famous "Catechetical School", while sacrificing no jot or tittle or that passion for orthodoxy which it had imbibed from Pantaenus, Clement, and Origen, had begun to take on an almost secular character in the comprehensiveness of its interests, and had counted pagans of influence among its serious auditors (Eusebius, Hist. Eccl., VI, xix).

To have been born and brought up in such an atmosphere of philosophizing Christianity was, in spite of the dangers it involved, the timeliest and most liberal of educations; and there is, as we have intimated, abundant evidence in the saint's writings to testify to the ready response which all the better influences of the place must have found in the heart and mind of the growing boy. Athanasius seems to have been brought early in life under the immediate supervision of the ecclesiastical authorities of his native city. Whether his long intimacy with Bishop Alexander began in childhood, we have no means of judging; but a story which pretends to describe the circumstances of his first introduction to that prelate has been preserved for us by Rufinus (Hist. Eccl., I, xiv). The bishop, so the tale runs, had invited a number of brother prelates to meet him at breakfast after a great religious function on the anniversary of the martyrdom of St. Peter, a recent predecessor in the See of Alexandria. While Alexander was waiting for his guests to arrive, he stood by a window, watching a group of boys at play on the seashore below the house. He had not observed them long before he discovered that they were imitating, evidently with no thought of irreverence, the elaborate ritual of Christian baptism. (Cf. Bunsen's "Christianity and Mankind", London, 1854, VI, 465; Denzinger, "Ritus Orientalium" in verb.; Butler's "Ancient Coptic Churches", II, 268 et sqq.; "Bapteme chez les Coptes", "Dict. Theol. Cath.", Col. 244, 245). He therefore sent for the children and had them brought into his presence. In the investigation that followed it was discovered that one of the boys, who was no other than the future Primate of Alexandria, had acted the part of the bishop, and in that character had actually baptized several of his companions in the course of their play. Alexander, who seems to have been unaccountably puzzled over the answers he received to his inquiries, determined to recognize the make-believe baptisms as genuine; and decided that Athanasius and his playfellows should go into training in order to fit themselves for a clerical career. The Bollandists deal gravely with this story; and writers as difficult to satisfy as Archdeacon Farrar and the late Dean Stanley are ready to accept it as bearing on its face "every indication of truth" (Farrar, "Lives of the Fathers", I, 337; Stanley, "East. Ch." 264). But whether in its present form, or in the modified version to be found in Socrates (I, xv), who omits all reference to the baptism and says that the game was "an imitation of the priesthood and the order of consecrated persons", the tale raises a number of chronological difficulties and suggests even graver questions.

Perhaps a not impossible explanation of its origin may be found in the theory that it was one of the many floating myths set in movement by popular imagination to account for the marked bias towards an ecclesiastical career which seems to have characterized the early boyhood of the future champion of the Faith. Sozomen speaks of his "fitness for the priesthood", and calls attention to the significant circumstance that he was "from his tenderest years practically self-taught". "Not long after this," adds the same authority, the Bishop Alexander "invited Athanasius to be his commensal and secretary. He had been well educated, and was versed in grammar and rhetoric, and had already, while still a young man, and before reaching the episcopate, given proof to those who dwelt with him of his wisdom and acumen" (Soz., II, xvii). That "wisdom and acumen" manifested themselves in a various environment. While still a levite under Alexander's care, he seems to have been brought for a while into close relations with some of the solitaries of the Egyptian desert, and in particular with the great St. Anthony, whose life he is said to have written. The evidence both of the intimacy and for the authorship of the life in question has been challenged, chiefly by non-Catholic writers, on the ground that the famous "Vita" shows signs of interpolation. Whatever we may think of the arguments on the subject, it is impossible to deny that the monastic idea appealed powerfully to the young cleric's temperament, and that he himself in after years was not only at home when duty or accident threw him among the solitaries, but was so monastically self-disciplined in his habits as to be spoken of as an "ascetic" (Apol. c. Arian., vi). In fourth-century usage the word would have a definiteness of connotation not easily determinable today. (See ASCETICISM).

It is not surprising that one who was called to fill so large a place in the history of his time should have impressed the very form and feature of his personality, so to say, upon the imagination of his contemporaries. St. Gregory Nazianzen is not the only writer who has described him for us (Orat. xxi, 8). A contemptuous phrase of the Emperor Julian's (Epist., li) serves unintentionally to corroborate the picture drawn by kindlier observers. He was slightly below the middle height, spare in build, but well-knit, and intensely energetic. He had a finely shaped head, set off with a thin growth of auburn hair, a small but sensitively mobile mouth, an aquiline nose, and eyes of intense but kindly brilliancy. He had a ready wit, was quick in intuition, easy and affable in manner, pleasant in conversation, keen, and, perhaps, somewhat too unsparing in debate. (Besides the references already cited, see the detailed description given in the January Menaion quotes in the Bollandist life. Julian the Apostate, in the letter alluded to above sneers at the diminutiveness of his person -- mede aner, all anthropiokos euteles, he writes.) In addition to these qualities, he was conspicuous for two others to which even his enemies bore unwilling testimony. He was endowed with a sense of humour that could be as mordant -- we had almost said as sardonic -- as it seems to have been spontaneous and unfailing; and his courage was of the sort that never falters, even in the most disheartening hour of defeat. There is one other note in this highly gifted and many-sided personality to which everything else in his nature literally ministered, and which must be kept steadily in view, if we would possess the key to his character and writing and understand the extraordinary significance of his career in the history of the Christian Church. He was by instinct neither a liberal nor a conservative in theology. Indeed the terms have a singular inappropriateness as applied to a temperament like his. From first to last he cared greatly for one thing and one thing only; the integrity of his Catholic creed. The religion it engendered in him was obviously -- considering the traits by which we have tried to depict him -- of a passionate and consuming sort. It began and ended in devotion to the Divinity of Jesus Christ. He was scarcely out of his teens, and certainly not in more than deacon's orders, when he published two treatises, in which his mind seemed to strike the keynote of all its riper after-utterances on the subject of the Catholic Faith. The "Contra Gentes" and the "Oratio de Incarnatione" -- to give them the Latin appellations by which they are more commonly cited -- were written some time between the years 318 and 323. St. Jerome (De Viris Illust.) refers to them under a common title, as "Adversum Gentes Duo Libri", thus leaving his readers to gather the impression which an analysis of the contents of both books certainly seems to justify, that the two treatises are in reality one.

As a plea for the Christian position, addressed chiefly to both Gentiles and Jews, the young deacon's apology, while undoubtedly reminiscential in methods and ideas of Origen and the earlier Alexandrians, is, nevertheless, strongly individual and almost pietistic in tone. Though it deals with the Incarnation, it is silent on most of those ulterior problems in defence of which Athanasius was soon to be summoned by the force of events and the fervour of his own faith to devote the best energies of his life. The work contains no explicit discussion of the nature of the Word's Sonship, for instance; no attempt to draw out the character of Our Lord's relation to the Father; nothing, in short, of those Christological questions upon which he was to speak with such splendid and courageous clearness in time of shifting formularies and undetermined views. Yet those ideas must have been in the air (Soz., I, xv) for, some time between the years 318 and 320, Arius, a native of Libya (Epiph., Haer., lxix) and priest of the Alexandrian Church, who had already fallen under censure for his part in the Meletian troubles which broke out during the episcopate of St. Peter, and whose teachings had succeeded in making dangerous headway, even among "the consecrated virgins" of St. Mark's see (Epiph. Haer., lxix; Soc., Hist. Eccl., I, vi), accused Bishop Alexander of Sabellianism. Arius, who seems to have presumed on the charitable tolerance of the primate, was at length deposed (Apol. c. Ar., vi) in a synod consisting of more than one hundred bishops of Egypt and Libya (Depositio Ar., 3). The condemned heresiarch withdrew first to Palestine and afterwards to Bithynia, where, under the protection of Eusebius of Nicomedia and his other "Collucianists", he was able to increase his already remarkable influence, while his friends were endeavouring to prepare a way for his forcible reinstatement as priest of the Alexandrian Church. Athanasius, though only in deacon's order, must have taken no subordinate part in these events. He was the trusted secretary and advisor of Alexander, and his name appears in the list of those who signed the encyclical letter subsequently issued by the primate and his colleagues to offset the growing prestige of the new teaching, and the momentum it was beginning to acquire from the ostentatious patronage extended to the deposed Arius by the Eusebian faction. Indeed, it is to this party and to the leverage it was able to exercise at the emperor's court that the subsequent importance of Arianism as a political, rather than a religious, movement seems primarily to be due.

The heresy, of course, had its supposedly philosophic basis, which has been ascribed by authors, ancient and modern, to the most opposite sources. St. Epiphanius characterizes it as a king of revived Aristoteleanism (Haer., lxvii and lxxvi); and the same view is practically held by Socrates (Hist. Eccl., II, xxxv), Theodoret (Haer. Fab., IV, iii), and St. Basil (Adv. Eunom., I, ix). On the other hand, a theologian as broadly read as Petavius (De Trin., I, viii, 2) has no hesitation in deriving it from Platonism; Newman in turn (Arians of the Fourth Cent., 4 ed., 109) sees in it the influence of Jewish prejudices rationalized by the aid of Aristotelean ideas; while Robertson (Sel. Writ. and Let. of Ath. Proleg., 27) observes that the "common theology", which was invariably opposed to it, "borrowed its philosophical principles and method from the Platonists." These apparently conflicting statements could, no doubt, be easily adjusted; but the truth is that the prestige of Arianism never lay in its ideas. From whatever school it may have been logically derived, the sect, as a sect, was cradled and nurtured in intrigue. Save in some few instances, which can be accounted for on quite other grounds, its prophets relied more upon curial influence than upon piety, or Scriptural knowledge, or dialectics. That must be borne constantly in mind, if we would not move distractedly through the bewildering maze of events that make up the life of Athanasius for the next half-century to come. It is his peculiar merit that he not only saw the drift of things from the very beginning, but was confident of the issue down to the last (Apol. c. Ar., c.). His insight and courage proved almost as efficient a bulwark to the Christian Church in the world as did his singularly lucid grasp of traditional Catholic belief. His opportunity came in the year 325, when the Emperor Constantine, in the hope of putting an end to the scandalous debates that were disturbing the peace of the Church, met the prelates of the entire Catholic world in council at Nicaea.

The great council convoked at this juncture was something more than a pivotal event in the history of Christianity. Its sudden, and, in one sense, almost unpremeditated adoption of a quasi-philosophic and non-Scriptural term -- homoousion -- to express the character of orthodox belief in the Person of the historic Christ, by defining Him to be identical in substance, or co-essential, with the Father, together with its confident appeal to the emperor to lend the sanction of his authority to the decrees and pronouncements by which it hoped to safeguard this more explicit profession of the ancient Faith, had consequences of the gravest import, not only to the world of ideas, but to the world of politics as well. By the official promulgation to the term homoöusion, theological speculation received a fresh but subtle impetus which made itself felt long after Athanasius and his supporters had passed away; while the appeal to the secular arm inaugurated a policy which endured practically without change of scope down to the publication of the Vatican decrees in our own time. In one sense, and that a very deep and vital one, both the definition and the policy were inevitable. It was inevitable in the order of religious ideas that any break in logical continuity should be met by inquiry and protest. It was just as inevitable that the protest, to be effective, should receive some countenance from a power which up to that moment had affected to regulate all the graver circumstances of life (cf. Harnack, Hist. Dog., III, 146, note; Buchanan's tr.). As Newman has remarked: "The Church could not meet together in one, without entering into a sort of negotiation with the power that be; who jealousy it is the duty of Christians, both as individuals and as a body, if possible, to dispel" (Arians of the Fourth Cent., 4 ed., 241). Athanasius, though not yet in priest's orders, accompanied Alexander to the council in the character of secretary and theological adviser. He was not, of course, the originator of the famous homoösion. The term had been proposed in a non-obvious and illegitimate sense by Paul of Samosata to the Father at Antioch, and had been rejected by them as savouring of materialistic conceptions of the Godhead (cf. Athan., "De Syn.," xliii; Newman, "Arians of the Fourth Cent.," 4 ed., 184-196; Petav. "De Trin.," IV, v, sect. 3; Robertson, "Sel. Writ. and Let. Athan. Proleg.", 30 sqq.).

It may even be questioned whether, if left to his own logical instincts, Athanasius would have suggested an orthodox revival of the term at all ("De Decretis", 19; "Orat. c. Ar.", ii, 32; "Ad Monachos", 2). His writings, composed during the forty-six critical years of his episcopate, show a very sparing use of the word; and though, as Newman (Arians of the Fourth Cent., 4 ed., 236) reminds us, "the authentic account of the proceedings" that took place is not extant, there is nevertheless abundant evidence in support of the common view that it had been unexpectedly forced upon the notice of the bishops, Arian and orthodox, in the great synod by Constantine's proposal to account the creed submitted by Eusebius of Caesarea, with the addition of the homoösion, as a safeguard against possible vagueness. The suggestion had in all probability come from Hosius (cf. "Epist. Eusebii.", in the appendix to the "De Decretis", sect. 4; Soc., "Hist. Eccl.", I, viii; III, vii; Theod. "Hist. Eccl.", I, Athan.; "Arians of the Fourth Cent.", 6, n. 42; outos ten en Nikaia pistin exetheto, says the saint, quoting his opponents); but Athanasius, in common with the leaders of the orthodox party, loyally accepted the term as expressive of the traditional sense in which the Church had always held Jesus Christ to be the Son of God. The conspicuous abilities displayed in the Nicaean debates and the character for courage and sincerity he won on all sides made the youthful cleric henceforth a marked man (St. Greg. Naz., Orat., 21). His life could not be lived in a corner. Five months after the close of the council the Primate of Alexandria died; and Athanasius, quite as much in recognition of his talent, it would appear, as in deference to the deathbed wishes of the deceased prelate, was chosen to succeed him. His election, in spite of his extreme youth and the opposition of a remnant of the Arian and Meletian factions in the Alexandrian Church, was welcomed by all classes among the laity ("Apol. c. Arian", vi; Soz., "Hist. Eccl.", II, xvii, xxi, xxii).

The opening years of the saint's rule were occupied with the wonted episcopal routine of a fourth-century Egyptian bishop. Episcopal visitations, synods, pastoral correspondence, preaching and the yearly round of church functions consumed the bulk of his time. The only noteworthy events of which antiquity furnishes at least probable data are connected with the successful efforts which he made to provide a hierarchy for the newly planted church in Ethiopia (Abyssinia) in the person of St. Frumentius (Rufinus I, ix; Soc. I, xix; Soz., II, xxiv), and the friendship which appears to have begun about this time between himself and the monks of St. Pachomius. But the seeds of disaster which the saint's piety had unflinchingly planted at Nicaea were beginning to bear a disquieting crop at last. Already events were happening at Constantinople which were soon to make him the most important figure of his time. Eusebius of Nicomedia, who had fallen into disgrace and been banished by the Emperor Constantine for his part in the earlier Arian controversies, had been recalled from exile. After an adroit campaign of intrigue, carried on chiefly through the instrumentality of the ladies of the imperial household, this smooth-mannered prelate so far prevailed over Constantine as to induce him to order the recall of Arius likewise from exile. He himself sent a characteristic letter to the youthful Primate of Alexandria, in which he bespoke his favour for the condemned heresiarch, who was described as a man whose opinions had been misrepresented. These events must have happened some time about the close of the year 330. Finally the emperor himself was persuaded to write to Athanasius, urging that all those who were ready to submit to the definitions of Nicaea should be re-admitted to ecclesiastical communion. This Athanasius stoutly refused to do, alleging that there could be no fellowship between the Church and the one who denied the Divinity of Christ.

The Bishop of Nicomedia thereupon brought various ecclesiastical and political charges against Athanasius, which, though unmistakably refuted at their first hearing, were afterwards refurbished and made to do service at nearly every stage of his subsequent trials. Four of these were very definite, to wit: that he had not reached the canonical age at the time of his consecration; that he had imposed a linen tax upon the provinces; that his officers had, with his connivance and authority, profaned the Sacred Mysteries in the case of an alleged priest names Ischyras; and lastly that he had put one Arenius to death and afterwards dismembered the body for purposes of magic. The nature of the charges and the method of supporting them were vividly characteristic of the age. The curious student will find them set forth in picturesque detail in the second part of the Saint's "Apologia", or "Defense against the Arians", written long after the events themselves, about the year 350, when the retractation of Ursacius and Valens made their publication triumphantly opportune. The whole unhappy story at this distance of time reads in parts more like a specimen of late Greek romance than the account of an inquisition gravely conducted by a synod of Christian prelates with the idea of getting at the truth of a series of odious accusations brought against one of their number. Summoned by the emperor's order after protracted delays extended over a period of thirty months (Soz., II, xxv), Athanasius finally consented to meet the charges brought against him by appearing before a synod of prelates at Tyre in the year 335. Fifty of his suffragans went with him to vindicate his good name; but the complexion of the ruling party in the synod made it evident that justice to the accused was the last thing that was thought of. It can hardly be wondered at, that Athanasius should have refused to be tried by such a court. He, therefore, suddenly withdrew from Tyre, escaping in a boat with some faithful friends who accompanied him to Byzantium, where he had made up his mind to present himself to the emperor.

The circumstances in which the saint and the great catechumen met were dramatic enough. Constantine was returning from a hunt, when Athanasius unexpectedly stepped into the middle of the road and demanded a hearing. The astonished emperor could hardly believe his eyes, and it needed the assurance of one of the attendants to convince him that the petitioner was not an impostor, but none other than the great Bishop of Alexandria himself. "Give me", said the prelate, "a just tribunal, or allow me to meet my accusers face to face in your presence." His request was granted. An order was peremptorily sent to the bishops, who had tried Athanasius and, of course, condemned him in his absence, to repair at once to the imperial city. The command reached them while they were on their way to the great feast of the dedication of Constantine's new church at Jerusalem. It naturally caused some consternation; but the more influential members of the Eusebian faction never lacked either courage or resourcefulness. The saint was taken at his word; and the old charges were renewed in the hearing of the emperor himself. Athanasius was condemned to go into exile at Treves, where he was received with the utmost kindness by the saintly Bishop Maximinus and the emperor's eldest son, Constantine. He began his journey probably in the month of February, 336, and arrived on the banks of the Moselle in the late autumn of the same year. His exile lasted nearly two years and a half. Public opinion in his own diocese remained loyal to him during all that time. It was not the least eloquent testimony to the essential worth of his character that he could inspire such faith. Constantine's treatment of Athanasius at this crisis in his fortunes has always been difficult to understand. Affecting, on the one hand, a show of indignation, as if he really believed in the political charge brought against the saint, he, on the other hand, refused to appoint a successor to the Alexandrian See, a thing which he might in consistency have been obliged to do had he taken seriously the condemnation proceedings carried through by the Eusebians at Tyre.

Meanwhile events of the greatest importance had taken place. Arius had died amid startlingly dramatic circumstances at Constantinople in 336; and the death of Constantine himself had followed, on the 22nd of May the year after. Some three weeks later the younger Constantine invited the exiled primate to return to his see; and by the end of November of the same year Athanasius was once more established in his episcopal city. His return was the occasion of great rejoicing. The people, as he himself tells us, ran in crowds to see his face; the churches were given over to a kind of jubilee; thanksgivings were offered up everywhere; and clergy and laity accounted the day the happiest in their lives. But already trouble was brewing in a quarter from which the saint might reasonably have expected it. The Eusebian faction, who from this time forth loom large as the disturbers of his peace, managed to win over to their side the weak-minded Emperor Constantius to whom the East had been assigned in the division of the empire that followed on the death of Constantine. The old charges were refurbished with a graver ecclesiastical accusation added by way of rider. Athanasius had ignored the decision of a duly authorized synod. He had returned to his see without the summons of ecclesiastical authority (Apol. c. Ar., loc. cit.). In the year 340, after the failure of the Eusebian malcontents to secure the appointment of an Arian candidate of dubious reputation names Pistus, the notorious Gregory of Cappadocia was forcibly intruded into the Alexandrian See, and Athanasius was obliged to go into hiding. Within a very few weeks he set out for Rome to lay his case before the Church at large. He had made his appeal to Pope Julius, who took up his cause with a whole-heartedness that never wavered down to the day of that holy pontiff's death. The pope summoned a synod of bishops to meet in Rome. After a careful and detailed examination of the entire case, the primate's innocence was proclaimed to the Christian world.

Meanwhile the Eusebian party had met at Antioch and passed a series of decrees framed for the sole purpose of preventing the saint's return to his see. Three years were passed at Rome, during which time the idea of the cenobitical life, as Athanasius had seen it practised in the deserts of Egypt, was preached to the clerics of the West (St. Jerome, Epistle cxxvii, 5). Two years after the Roman synod had published its decision, Athanasius was summoned to Milan by the Emperor Constans, who laid before him the plan which Constantius had formed for a great reunion of both the Eastern and Western Churches. Now began a time of extraordinary activity for the Saint. Early in the year 343 we find the undaunted exile in Gaul, whither he had gone to consult the saintly Hosius, the great champion of orthodoxy in the West. The two together set out for the Council of Sardica which had been summoned in deference to the Roman pontiff's wishes. At this great gathering of prelates the case of Athanasius was taken up once more; and once more was his innocence reaffirmed. Two conciliar letters were prepared, one to the clergy and faithful of Alexandria, and the other to the bishops of Egypt and Libya, in which the will of the Council was made known. Meanwhile the Eusebian party had gone to Philippopolis, where they issued an anathema against Athanasius and his supporters. The persecution against the orthodox party broke out with renewed vigour, and Constantius was induced to prepare drastic measures against Athanasius and the priests who were devoted to him. Orders were given that if the Saint attempted to re-enter his see, he should be put to death. Athanasius, accordingly, withdrew from Sardica to Naissus in Mysia, where he celebrated the Easter festival of the year 344. After that he set out for Aquileia in obedience to a friendly summons from Constans, to whom Italy had fallen in the division of the empire that followed on the death of Constantine. Meanwhile an unexpected event had taken place which made the return of Athanasius to his see less difficult than it had seemed for many months. Gregory of Cappadocia had died (probably of violence) in June, 345. The embassy which had been sent by the bishops of Sardica to the Emperor Constantius, and which had at first met with the most insulting treatment, now received a favourable hearing. Constantius was induced to reconsider his decision, owing to a threatening letter from his brother Constans and the uncertain condition of affairs of the Persian border, and he accordingly made up his mind to yield. But three separate letters were needed to overcome the natural hesitation of Athanasius. He passed rapidly from Aquileia to Treves, from Treves to Rome, and from Rome by the northern route to Adrianople and Antioch, where he met Constantius. He was accorded a gracious interview by the vacillating Emperor, and sent back to his see in triumph, where he began his memorable ten years' reign, which lasted down to the third exile, that of 356. These were full years in the life of the Bishop; but the intrigues of the Eusebian, or Court, party were soon renewed. Pope Julius had died in the month of April, 352, and Liberius had succeeded him as Sovereign Pontiff. For two years Liberius had been favourable to the cause of Athanasius; but driven at last into exile, he was induced to sign an ambiguous formula, from which the great Nicene test, the homoöusion, had been studiously omitted. In 355 a council was held at Milan, where in spite of the vigorous opposition of a handful of loyal prelates among the Western bishops, a fourth condemnation of Athanasius was announced to the world. With his friends scattered, the saintly Hosius in exile, the Pope Liberius denounced as acquiescing in Arian formularies, Athanasius could hardly hope to escape. On the night of 8 February, 356, while engaged in services in the Church of St. Thomas, a band of armed men burst in to secure his arrest (Apol. de Fuga, 24). It was the beginning of his third exile.

Through the influence of the Eusebian faction at Constantinople, an Arian bishop, George of Cappadocia, was now appointed to rule the see of Alexandria. Athanasius, after remaining some days in the neighbourhood of the city, finally withdrew into the deserts of upper Egypt, where he remained for a period of six years, living the life of the monks and devoting himself in his enforced leisure to the composition of that group of writings of which we have the rest in the "Apology to Constantius", the "Apology for his Flight", the "Letter to the Monks", and the "History of the Arians". Legend has naturally been busy with this period of the Saint's career; and we may find in the "Life of Pachomius" a collection of tales brimful of incidents, and enlivened by the recital of "deathless 'scapes in the breach." But by the close of the year 360 a change was apparent in the complexion of the anti-Nicene party. The Arians no longer presented an unbroken front to their orthodox opponents. The Emperor Constantius, who had been the cause of so much trouble, died 4 November, 361, and was succeeded by Julian. The proclamation of the new prince's accession was the signal for a pagan outbreak against the still dominant Arian faction in Alexandria. George, the usurping Bishop, was flung into prison and murdered amid circumstances of great cruelty, 24 December (Hist. Aceph., VI). An obscure presbyter of the name of Pistus was immediately chosen by the Arians to succeed him, when fresh news arrived that filled the orthodox party with hope. An edict had been put forth by Julian (Hist. Aceph., VIII) permitting the exiled bishops of the "Galileans" to return to their "towns and provinces". Athanasius received a summons from his own flock, and he accordingly re-entered his episcopal capital 22 February, 362. With characteristic energy he set to work to re-establish the somewhat shattered fortunes of the orthodox party and to purge the theological atmosphere of uncertainty. To clear up the misunderstandings that had arisen in the course of the previous years, an attempt was made to determine still further the significance of the Nicene formularies. In the meanwhile, Julian, who seems to have become suddenly jealous of the influence that Athanasius was exercising at Alexandria, addressed an order to Ecdicius, the Prefect of Egypt, peremptorily commanding the expulsion of the restored primate, on the ground that he had never been included in the imperial act of clemency. The edict was communicated to the bishop by Pythicodorus Trico, who, though described in the "Chronicon Athanasianum" (xxxv) as a "philosopher", seems to have behaved with brutal insolence. On 23 October the people gathered about the proscribed bishop to protest against the emperor's decree; but the saint urged them to submit, consoling them with the promise that his absence would be of short duration. The prophecy was curiously fulfilled. Julian terminated his brief career 26 June, 363; and Athanasius returned in secret to Alexandria, where he soon received a document from the new emperor, Jovian, reinstating him once more in his episcopal functions. His first act was to convene a council which reaffirmed the terms of the Nicene Creed. Early in September he set out for Antioch, bearing a synodal letter, in which the pronouncements of this council had been embodied. At Antioch he had an interview with the new emperor, who received him graciously and even asked him to prepare an exposition of the orthodox faith. But in the following February Jovian died; and in October, 364, Athanasius was once more an exile.

With the turn of circumstances that handed over to Valens the control of the East this article has nothing to do; but the accession of the emperor gave a fresh lease of life to the Arian party. He issued a decree banishing the bishops who has been deposed by Constantius, but who had been permitted by Jovian to return to their sees. The news created the greatest consternation in the city of Alexandria itself, and the prefect, in order to prevent a serious outbreak, gave public assurance that the very special case of Athanasius would be laid before the emperor. But the saint seems to have divined what was preparing in secret against him. He quietly withdrew from Alexandria, 5 October, and took up his abode in a country house outside the city. It was during this period that he is said to have spent four months in hiding in his father's tomb (Soz., "Hist. Eccl.", VI, xii; Doc., "Hist. Eccl.", IV, xii). Valens, who seems to have sincerely dreaded the possible consequences of a popular outbreak, gave order within a very few weeks for the return of Athanasius to his see. And now began that last period of comparative repose which unexpectedly terminated his strenuous and extraordinary career. He spent his remaining days, characteristically enough, in re-emphasizing the view of the Incarnation which had been defined at Nicaea and which has been substantially the faith of the Christian Church from its earliest pronouncement in Scripture down to its last utterance through the lips of Pius X in our own times. "Let what was confessed by the Fathers of Nicaea prevail", he wrote to a philosopher-friend and correspondent in the closing years of his life (Epist. lxxi, ad Max.). That that confession did at last prevail in the various Trinitarian formularies that followed upon that of Nicaea was due, humanly speaking, more to his laborious witness than to that of any other champion in the long teachers' roll of Catholicism. By one of those inexplicable ironies that meet us everywhere in human history, this man, who had endured exile so often, and risked life itself in defence of what he believed to be the first and most essential truth of the Catholic creed, died not by violence or in hiding, but peacefully in his own bed, surrounded by his clergy and mourned by the faithful of the see he had served so well. His feast in the Roman Calendar is kept on the anniversary of his death.

[Note on his depiction in art: No accepted emblem has been assigned to him in the history of western art; and his career, in spite of its picturesque diversity and extraordinary wealth of detail, seems to have furnished little, if any, material for distinctive illustration. Mrs. Jameson tells us that according to the Greek formula, "he ought to be represented old, bald-headed, and with a long white beard" (Sacred and Legendary Art, I, 339).]

Portions of this entry are taken from The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1907.
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