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Athanasius the Great, Doctor of the Church, Father of Orthodoxy, and Defender of the Faith

Posted by Warm Southern Breeze on Thursday, May 2, 2013

Today marks the feast day celebrating the life of Athanasius – Saint, Doctor of the Church, Father of Orthodoxy, Defender of the Faith and “Father of The Canon” – who is highly respected not only within the Catholic Church, but in all of Christendom not just because he defended orthodox Christianity (then in its infancy) against what is described as the greatest greatest crisis of faith ever to befall the Church, the Arian Heresy, but because in the process, he was also the first to effectively elucidate the nature of the Trinity. “Athanasius contra mundum” – Latin, meaning “Athanasius against the world” – was the hallmark phrase noting his dedication to Apostolic tradition during the First Council of Nicaea.

When I converted, I took two patrons: First, Saint Athanasius the Great, and Second, John Henry Newman (now Blessed John Henry Newman).

{NOTE: The tradition of taking a saint’s name in baptism began in Germany and France during the Middle Ages. The custom spread throughout the church, with the exception of Ireland until after the Norman invasion in 1066 (11th century), were at first, it was considered an irreverence. However, a baptismal saint becomes a special and personal patron, protecting the person who bears his or her name. It was expected that the baptized eventually learn the story of their patron saints, model themselves after them, and seek their intercession for guidance and protection. Taking a particular saint as a patron and model of one’s own personal faith might seem somewhat out of character for modern believers, because the saints lived in different times. However, their lives continue to testify that a a baptized person can walk with the mystery of God and thrive in faith. Their lives tell how the Good News of the Gospel can be lived in a practical way. This doesn’t mean that people of today should copy saints in some external way, but rather, that the saints’ lives can be a stimulus and source of inspiration toward one’s personal efforts to follow the way of Jesus in our own time, situations and culture.}

Simply put, Arianism taught that Jesus was created “a son of God” and therefore was not fully divine, but only partially. And as it seems today, increasingly, Arianism had become more a political ideology, rather than a religious movement. At the time, Theology was a topic which most deeply engaged men’s thoughts, and the Arian controversy interested all classes of people. Indeed, the heretical propositions of Arianism made rapid inroads into popular thinking because they were publicized in the form of songs set to popular tunes, were chanted in forums, and carried by sailors from port to port.

Complicating matters was that simultaneously, Plato’s philosophy of hierarchy known as “First Cause” commingled with Christian theology and in part gave rise to what later became known Arianism, so named for it’s most renown promoter Arius, a priest of the church of Baucalis in Alexandria, Egypt, where Athanasius, who was then a bishop in the Church, was born, and resided. Athanasius had received secular, philosophical, and theological education & training at Alexandria, specifically his theological learning was in the renown Catechetical School of Alexandria, where he was taught by those who later became Martyrs of the last great pagan Roman persecution of the Church.

Arius began to teach that Jesus, though more than man, was not eternal God, that he was created in time by the Eternal Father, and could therefore be described only figuratively as the Son of God. The Cappadocians vehemently argued against Arianism for its inequality among the divine Persons.

Athanasius, as Archbishop of Alexandria, in his Epistle in Defence of the Nicene Definition, wrote “”of the substance” and “one in substance,” and that “the Son of God is neither creature or work, nor in the number of things generated, but that the Word is an offspring from the substance of the Father.””
In his letter to the Church as Bishop of Alexandria, Athanasius wrote, “You are the ones who are happy; you who remain within the Church by your Faith, who hold firmly to the foundations of the Faith which has come down to you from Apostolic Tradition. And if an execrable jealousy has tried to shake it on a number of occasions, it has not succeeded. They are the ones who have broken away from it in the present crisis. No one, ever, will prevail against your Faith, beloved Brothers. And we believe that God will give us our churches back some day.”

Shortly after the matter had been resolved, and some years after Athansius’ death, Saint Gregory of Nazianzus – who resided in Cappadocia, and later became a priest, bishop and then Archbishop of Constantinople – in his work “On St. Basil” (paragraph 30) wrote of Arianism that, “This was the disease of Arius, who gave his name to the madness, and who threw into confusion and brought to ruin a great part of the Church. Without honoring the Father, he dishonored what proceeded from Him by maintaining unequal degrees in the Godhead. But we recognize one glory of the Father, the equality of the Only-begotten, and one glory of the Son, the equality of the Holy Spirit. And we believe that to subordinate anything of the Three is to destroy the whole.”

Renown modern convert to Catholicism from Anglicanism, Blessed John Henry Newman, wrote that Athanasius was a “principal instrument, after the Apostles, by which the sacred truths of Christianity have been conveyed and secured to the world.”

Here is the:
Athanasian Creed
Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholic Faith. Which Faith, except a man keep whole and integral, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly. Now the Catholic Faith is this: that we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity. Neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the substance. For there is one person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Ghost.
But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost is all one, the glory equal, the majesty co-eternal. For such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Ghost.
The Father uncreated, the Son uncreated, the Holy Ghost uncreated; the Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible; the Father eternal, the Son eternal, the Holy Ghost eternal. And yet, there are not three eternals, but one eternal. As also there are not three uncreated, nor three incomprehensibles; but one uncreated, and one incomprehensible.

So likewise the Father is Almighty, the Son Almighty, and the Holy Ghost Almighty. And yet there are not three Almighties, but one Almighty.

So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God. And yet there are not three Gods, but one God.

So likewise, the Father is Lord, the Son is Lord, and the Holy Ghost is Lord. And yet there are not three Lords, but one Lord.

For, as we are compelled by the Christian verity to acknowledge every Person by Himself to be God and Lord; so we are forbidden by the Catholic religion to say there be three Gods or three Lords. The Father is made by none, neither created nor begotten. The Son is of the Father, not made, nor created, but begotten. The Holy Ghost is of the Father, and of the Son; neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding.

So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Ghost, not three Holy Ghosts. And in this Trinity none is before or after the other. None is greater or less than another, but the whole three Persons are co-equal and co-eternal together.
So that in all things, as is aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity, and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshipped. He therefore that will be saved, must thus think of the Trinity.

Furthermore it is necessary unto eternal salvation that he believe rightly the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. For the right faith is, that we believe and confess, that our Lord Jesus Christ is God and man. God of the substance of the Father, begotten before the world; and Man of the substance of His Mother, born into the world. Perfect God and perfect Man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting. Equal to the Father as touching His Godhead, and inferior to the Godhead as touching His Manhood. Who, although He be God, and Man, yet He is not two, but one Christ. One altogether, not by confusion of substance, but by unity of Person. For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man, so God and man is one Christ. Who suffered for our salvation, descended into hell, rose again the third day from the dead. He ascended into heaven; He sitteth at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty; from whence He shall come to judge the living and the dead. At Whose coming all men shall rise again with their bodies, and shall give account for their works. And they that have done good shall go into everlasting life, and they that have done evil, into everlasting fire.

This, then, is the Catholic Faith, which except a man believe faithfully and firmly, he cannot be saved.

Here is the:
Nicene Creed

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father; through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven, was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became truly man.

Various heresies (all which remain in one form, or another in various Prostestant denominations to this day) in his time included:
• Ebionism – taught that Jesus is just a man and not divine.

• Adoptionism – taught that Jesus was human, but he became the Son of God by Adoption.

• Docetism – taught that Jesus is not human at all. He is completely divine. The word Docetism comes from the Greek, dokein = “to seem”). The Docetists said Jesus just ‘seemed’ to be human.

• Arianism – taught that Jesus is related to God as his son, but he is not fully divine. Arius was a presbyter in the church of Alexandria. His teachings were an attempt to defend the transcendence of God. In the end, Arius had to conclude that Jesus Christ the Son of God was a demi-god–and therefore a created being. The argument focussed on two Greek words: homoousias, the Son is of the same essence as the Father, and homoiousias, the Son is of similar essence as the Father. The Nicene creed uses the word first word “homoousias” meaning one of substance with the Father, and so we say today, “Consubstantial with the Father.”

• Apollinarianism – taught that the Word (which was a perfect divine nature) assumed a human body in Jesus, and thus replaced his human soul and mind. Apollinaris, the Bishop of Laodicea, proposed this idea in answer to Arius.

• Nestorianism – Nestorius was the  Bishop of Constantinople (A.D. 428). He did not like the term for the Virgin Mary”Theotokos” because he said it implied that the baby in Mary’s womb had only one nature, divine nature. He proposed the use of the term “Christokos“, Christ-bearer, to better emphasize the unity of the two natures of Jesus. Cyril of Alexandria countered by saying that God Himself had entered the womb of Mary; therefore she was “Theotokos“. The Concil of Rome in 430 condemned Nestorianism.

• Monophysitism – taught that the Lord’s humanity was totally absorbed by His divinity, and thus denied the orthodox view of Christ having two natures in one being.

One of Athanasius’ writings – Athanasius: On the Incarnation (De Incarnatione Verbi Dei) a translation by Sister Penelope Lawson, of the Anglican Community of St. Mary the Virgin in Wantage, England, was originally published with a byline that reads only “Translated and edited by A Religious of C.S.M.V.” The Introduction is by C. S. Lewis.) – may be read here:


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