May 1, 2017

St. Athanasius of Alexandria, the "Father of Orthodoxy"

St. Athanasius

May 2nd, is the memorial of Saint Athanasius of Alexandria (c. 296 – 373), the 4th century bishop, theologian, and Doctor of the Church who as a revered pillar of the Faith championed orthodoxy and the divinity of Christ against the heretical Arius (hence his title "Arius' ablest enemy"). He is a venerated Church Father.

Most Catholics today have little idea what the term “Arianism” means. In the 4th century, however, it was the most pernicious heresy ever to be promulgated, and it threatened to destroy the Church's most essential beliefs about Jesus Christ.

Arius, for whom the heresy is named, was a priest in Alexandria, Egypt, in the late 3rd century. He believed that, although Jesus was Lord and Savior, he was not equal to God the Father, but was merely the highest of all God’s creatures. In short, Arius denied the divinity of Christ. His teaching had divided the Church.

Enter St. Athanasius. He too, was from Alexandria, having become Patriarch Archbishop there in 328. Unlike Arius, however, St. Athanasius vigorously defended the doctrine of Christ’s divinity. He attended the Council of Nicea in 325, which was called by the Emperor Constantine to reaffirm the fact of Jesus’ divinity. Despite being exiled five times by pro-Arian emperors, St. Athanasius never gave up the struggle to eradicate the heresy of Arianism. It became, in effect, his life’s work and earned him the designation, the "Father of Orthodoxy".

His efforts helped lead to the First Council of Constantinople, which irrevocably condemned Arianism in 381. Preserved by divine Providence during a lifetime of trial and suffering, he died at Alexandria in the year 373. Athanasius enriched Christian literature with his influential works; some extolled piety and heroic virtue, others where polemical and dogmatic in nature. As bishop, he guided the Church of Alexandria for forty-six years. Almighty ever-living God, who raised up Saint Athanasius as an outstanding champion of your Son's divinity, grant, that, through his teaching and protection we may grow in knowledge and love of you.

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