Athanasius The Great
Nonetheless, within a few years of his death, Gregory of Nazianzus called him the "Pillar of the Church". His writings were well regarded by subsequent Church fathers in the West and the East, who noted their devotion to the Word-become-man, pastoral concern and interest in monasticism. Athanasius is considered one of the four great Eastern Doctors of the Church in the Catholic Church. In his Easter letter of 367, Athanasius was the first person to list the 27 books of the New Testament canon that are in use today. He is venerated as a saint in the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Catholic Church, the Coptic Orthodox Church, the Anglican Communion, and Lutheranism.
athanasius the great
Early in 343 Athanasius met with Hosius of Córdoba, and together they set out for Serdica. A full council of the Church was summoned there in deference to the Roman pontiff's wishes. At this great gathering of prelates, leaders of the Church, the case of Athanasius was taken up once more, that is, Athanasius was formally questioned over misdemeanours and even murder, (a bishop in Egypt named Arsenius had turned up missing, and they blamed his death on Athanasius, even supposedly producing Arsenius' severed hand.)
Pope Julius died in April 352 and was succeeded by Liberius. 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 text, the "homoousion", 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, Hosius in exile, and 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. It was the beginning of his third exile.
The accession of Emperor Valens gave a fresh lease of life to the Arian party. He issued a decree banishing the bishops who had been deposed by Constantius but who had been permitted by Jovian to return to their sees. The news created the greatest consternation in Alexandria, 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 Athanasius seems to have divined what was preparing in secret against him. He quietly withdrew from Alexandria in October 364 and took up his abode in a country house outside the city. Valens, who seems to have sincerely dreaded the possible consequences of another popular outbreak, within a few weeks issued orders allowing Athanasius to return to his episcopal see. Some early reports state that Athanasius spent this period of exile at his family's ancestral tomb in a Christian cemetery.
Athanasius was not a speculative theologian. As he states in his First Letters to Serapion, he held on to "the tradition, teaching, and faith proclaimed by the apostles and guarded by the fathers." He held that both the Son of God and the Holy Spirit are consubstantial with the Father, which had a great deal of influence in the development of later doctrines regarding the Trinity. Athanasius' "Letter Concerning the Decrees of the Council of Nicaea" (De Decretis), is an important historical as well as theological account of the proceedings of that council.
I know moreover that not only this thing saddens you, but also the fact that while others have obtained the churches by violence, you are meanwhile cast out from your places. For they hold the places, but you the Apostolic Faith. They are, it is true, in the places, but outside of the true Faith; while you are outside the places indeed, but the Faith, within you. Let us consider whether is the greater, the place or the Faith. Clearly the true Faith. Who then has lost more, or who possesses more? He who holds the place, or he who holds the Faith?
Historian Cornelius Clifford says in his account: "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 ever since." Clifford also says: "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." St. John Henry Newman describes him as a "principal instrument, after the Apostles, by which the sacred truths of Christianity have been conveyed and secured to the world".
He was born to pagan parents. When he was in school he saw a group of Christians acting out services and when he asked to join them, they refused. From then on he declared himself Christian. The patriarch at that time, Pope Alexander, predicted that he would eventually hold a great position.
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 ever 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.
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). 041b061a72