Saint Athanasius (c. 296/98-May 2, 373)
As a young man Athanasius spent some time with Saint Anthony of the Desert to learn the ways of the spiritual life. That formation served him well, for Athanasius became one of the most important defenders of the Christian faith. Bishop Alexander of Alexandria brought Athanasius with him to the Council of Nicea in 325. The Council taught the truth about the divinity of Jesus Christ. The priest Arius had been teaching a false doctrine that Jesus was not fully divine but a sort of created demi-god. Despite the Council’s clear teaching, Arianism spread widely, especially because it was politically supported by the emperors. In 328 Athanasius became the bishop of Alexandria, a position he held until his death. But he had to constantly struggle to uphold the true teaching about Jesus Christ. Four different emperors exiled Athanasius five times, for a total of seventeen years. Despite all the opposition Athanasius never wavered from defending the truth, giving rise to the expression Athanasius contra mundum (Athanasius against the world). He wrote important theological works and also a biography of Saint Anthony, which helped spread Christian monasticism. After his death, the Council of Constantinople in 381 reaffirmed the orthodox teaching about the divinity of Jesus.
Athanasius reminds us that it is never easy to be Catholic. He could have caved and compromised the truth about Jesus Christ in order to accommodate the Arians. But he knew that would have destroyed the Christian faith, for if Jesus is not divine he could not have saved us. Our world today is filled with many voices that challenge and sometimes ridicule Christian faith. Like Athanasius, we must resist such errors even while loving those who hold them.
Saint Athanasius, pray for us that we may grow in our knowledge and love of Jesus Christ, and always acknowledge him as our Savior.
© 2015, Daughters of Saint Paul