Saint Polycarp - Seven Marks Society

Saint Athanasius
Saint Athanasius
The Story
 St. Athanasius is one of the most important defenders of the faith in
the Christian Tradition! One of the four Great Doctors of the East
(along with Basil the Great, John Chrysostom of Constantinople and
Gregory of Nanzianzus).
 Athanasius was born about the year 298 A.D. to pagan parents in
Alexandria, Egypt. The Alexandria that he grew up in was a major
commercial and intellectual center in the Roman world. There was a
Catechetical School there that had produced some very important
Christian thinkers earlier, but by the time of Athanasius had become
quite secular, even including some pagans among its members.
The Story
 There is a story (in the Western Church) that
Bishop Alexander of Alexandria was waiting
for a meeting to start when he looked out
and saw some boys playing by the sea shore
beneath his window. The boys were
enacting a Christian Service. One boy was
playing the role of the Bishop. That boy was
Athanasius. In fact, Athanasius had
“baptized” several young boys during their
play. Bishop Alexander went down to the
boys, to recognize these baptisms and to
invite the boys into training for the
The Story
 About 319, when Athanasius was a Deacon, trouble began to break out
in the beliefs of a presbyter named Arius. Apparently Arius had
attacked Bishop Alexander, charging that Bishop Alexander was
teaching and preaching heresy.
 Arius and his followers said that there was a time when the Son of God
was not, that God the Father had created the Son, and therefore inferior
to the Father.
 Athanasius taught what we have been taught: the Holy Trinity, one God
in three persons, blessed Trinity.
The Trinity
The Story
 Bishop Alexander of Alexandria excommunicated Arius in 321, even
though Arius had powerful friends among the clergy in Alexandria and
among some of the other bishops.
 In 325 Emperor Constantine I, who had legalized Christianity in 313,
disturbed as this controversy over the views of Arius spread around the
world, called the first Ecumenical Council which met in Nicaea, Turkey.
 All of the 1,800 bishops were invited to attend this Ecumenical Council.
Bishop Alexander attended along with 317 other bishops. It is
probable that Athanasius also attended.
The First Ecumenical Council
The Story
 From this First Ecumenical Council came the Creed of Nicaea or the
Nicene Creed that we use today.
 Arius and his followers were anethamized. But that isn’t the end of this
 Arius and his friends fought back. When Bishop Alexander died (328)
Athanasius was elected to take his place. Arius began to attack
The Story
 Arius and his friends in the First Synod of Tyre (335), deposed Bishop
Athanasius, who was sent into exile to Trier in the Rhineland.
 Able to return a couple of years later, at the death of Emperor
Constantine I, the new emporer, Constantine II, sent Athanasius into
exile again.
 Athanasius would go back and forth five times in exile, amounting a
total of about 16 years in exile, out his total 45 years as bishop.
 Finally, on May 2, 373 Bishop Athanasius died peacefully in his own
The Story
 Why do we remember St. Athanasius?
 The Arian Controversy was one of the greatest disruptions in the life of
the Church. At stake was our understanding of who Jesus is and that
goes to the heart of our faith.
 St. Athanasius also gave a list of 27 books that should be included in the
New Testament. Various lists had circulated before, but his list of 27
books is the New Testament we have today.
 One of the three Ecumenical Creeds is the Athanasian Creed. Though
probably not written by him, it does speak powerfully about the Holy
 Let us remember the truth of our faith is always under assault! There
are people who will tell us we don’t have to worry about sin. Others will
deny the virgin birth or the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus.
Others will tell us the Bible needs to be reinterpreted (by them) because
we are so different, so modern, so well educated.
 We need to know what we believe and be willing to stand up for what
we believe! Learning the Athanasian Creed along with the Nicene
Creed and the Apostles Creed will serve us well in defending our faith.
Being well versed in Holy Scripture and well experienced in prayer will
serve us well in defending our faith.
 O heavenly Father, in your goodness you gave to your Holy Church and
to us, the life, ministry and death of this champion of our faith, Bishop
Athanasius, who worked hard and suffered repeated exile to defend our
Trinitarian faith. Help us, in our time, to stand up for our faith;
through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the
Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen

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