SAINT ATHANASIUS (c.296-373), bishop and Doctor of the Church
Today, the universal Church honors Saint Athanasius, who led a tumultuous but dedicated life of service to the Church. He was the great champion of the faith against the widespread heresy of Arianism, a heresy which denied the Divinity of Christ. The vigor of his writings earned him the title Doctor of the Church.
Born of a Christian family in Alexandria, Egypt about the year 296, and given a classical education, Athanasius became secretary to Alexander, the bishop of Alexandria, who had been an outspoken critic of a new movement growing in the East – Arianism.
Athanasius was ordained to the priesthood and accompanied Bishop Alexander in attending the Council of Nicaea in 325, where he defended the faith and the Divinity of Jesus against the Arians. He taught that Jesus was truly God and fully man, defining the Holy Spirit also as God. The Council was crucial to determining the orthodox teachings of the Church on the nature of Christ. He also fought for the acceptance of the Nicene Creed.
Upon his return to Alexandria, and the death of Bishop Alexander in 326, Athanasius was eventually named his successor as bishop in 328; and, as bishop, he continued the fight against Arianism. At first it seemed that the battle would be easily won and that Arianism would be condemned. Such, however, did not prove to be the case. The Roman emperor, Constantine, apparently not understanding the true seriousness of this heresy, exiled Athanasius to northern Gaul. This was to be the first in a series of travels and exiles reminiscent of the life of Saint Paul.
After Constantine died, his son restored Athanasius as bishop. This lasted only a year, however, for he was deposed once again by a coalition of Arian bishops. Athanasius took his case to Rome, and Saint Pope Julius I called a synod to review the case and other related matters, and Athanasius was supported in his defense of the faith.
However, due to the ruling authorities and the venomous attacks from those who supported Arianism, Athanasius was exiled five more times for his defense of the doctrine of Christ’s Divinity. During one period of his life, Athanasius enjoyed 10 years of relative peace – during which he devoted his life to reading, writing and promoting the Christian life along the lines of the monastic ideal to which he was greatly devoted. His dogmatic and historical writings are almost all refutations against every aspect of Arianism.
Bishop Athanasius enriched Christian literature with his many important works, some pointed towards piety and spiritual edification. As bishop, he oversaw the Church of Alexandria for forty-five years. Athanasius died in Alexandria on May 2, 373 from natural causes.
We commemorate his feastday on May 2.
(From catholicnewsagency.com, saints.sqpn.com, americancatholic.org, catholicculture.org and newadvent.org)
(The following prayer is from the Roman Breviary from the Proper for Saint Athanasius)
“Father, You raised up Saint Athanasius to be an outstanding defender of the truth of Christ’s Divinity. By his teaching and protection, may we grow in Your Knowledge and Love.
“Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”