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Athanasius of Alexandria

Athanasius of Alexandria (also spelled "Athanasios") (298May 2, 373) was a Christian bishop of Alexandria in the fourth century. He is revered as a saint by both the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church. Roman Catholics have declared him one of 33 Doctors of the Church. His feast day is January 18.

Historical significance

In about 319, when Athanasius was a deacon, a presbyter named Arius began teaching that there was a time before God the Father begat Jesus when the latter did not exist. Athanasius accompanied Alexander to the First Council of Nicaea in 325, which council 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, he was banished from Alexandria only to be later 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". During some of his exiles, he spent time with the Desert Fathers , monks and hermits who lived in remote areas of Egypt. Despite his doctrinal firmness, he showed diplomatic flair in rallying the orthodox at the Council of Alexandria in 362.

Probably during his first exile at Trier in 335-7 Athanasius wrote a double treatise entitled 'Against the Gentiles -- On the Incarnation', affirming and explaining that Jesus was both God and Man. In his major theological opus, the Three Discourses Against the Arians, Athanasius stressed that the Father's begetting of the Son, or uttering of the Word, was an eternal relationship between them, not an event that took place within time. He makes very sparing use of the key-word of Nicea, homoousios (consubstantial). His writings lay the foundation of Catholic Christianity's fight against the heresy of Arianism, which Athanasius opposed all his life. He also wrote a defence of the divinity of the Holy Spirit (Letters to Serapion) in the 360s.

Athanasius is also the first person to identify the same 27 books of the New Testament that are in use today, in his Easter letter from Alexandria, written in 367, at first only for the Eastern Church. Up until then, various similar lists were in use. The Bishop of Rome endorsed this same list in 382, followed by two synods in the 390's. The first was held in Hippone (393) and the second at Carthage (397). Later both, the Western and the Eastern church, included gradually yet the Epistle to the Hebrews. Since that time they have been universally recognized as the New Testament canon.

He also wrote a biography of Anthony the Great that later served as an inspiration to Christian monastics in both the East and the West. The Athanasian Creed is traditionally (but not credibly) ascribed to him.

The following is a troparion (hymn) to St. Athanasius sung in some 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.

See also

External link

|- style="text-align: center;" | width="30%" |Preceded by:
Gregory of Cappadocia | width="40%" style="text-align: center;" |Patriarch of Alexandria
346–373 | width="30%" |Succeeded by:
Peter II

Last updated: 05-07-2005 18:03:34
Last updated: 05-07-2005 18:09:53