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An Early Christian Saint for Our Time: St. Athanasius

Athanasius lived a long and varied life subject to philosophical, political, and theological controversies, violence, exile, and contentious relations with the most powerful rulers of his time: the Roman Emperors. Athanasius valiantly defended the Trinity at a time when this fundamental basis of Catholic theology was under attack. May we learn from him to stand for Truth during a time of pervasive ambiguity, moral relativism, and spiritual attacks.

Athanasius was born in Alexandria, Egypt, a center of violence, persecution, and civil conflict as well as one of the great cities of antiquity, a cosmopolitan center of learning, and a growing center of Christian thought. Athanasius was of a well-to-do family; he benefitted from an excellent classical and Christian education.

When Athanasius was growing up, the Roman Empire came under the control of an autocrat, Diocletian, succeeded by the first Christian emperor, Constantine, who used Christianity as a way to solidify his power. Even though Constantine’s Christianity was underdeveloped, as head of the state religion, he mediated conflicts among Christians over doctrine.

At the Council of Nicaea in 325, he heard the arguments of the Arians, who believed that Christ was not co-eternal, not the same substance as God the Father, and the Nicaeans, who believed that the first chapter of John’s Gospel proved that Christ, the Logos, was co-eternal and of the same substance (homoousios) as the Father and the Holy Spirit. Constantine supported the Nicaeans and repressed the Arian heresy.

According to the fifth-century historian Socrates Scholasticus, Athanasius was present at the Council of Nicaea as an aid and secretary to Bishop Alexander of Alexandria. Athanasius forcefully presented the arguments for the Trinity. Constantine supported those who believed in the concept of homoousios, and he banished the Arians, but only briefly; thereafter, the emperor agreed to end the exile of Arius and his supporters. By this time Athanasius was Bishop of Alexandria, and he refused to accept the Arians, arguing that once they had disowned Christ the Logos, they could not be forgiven. This earned him the ire of the Arians, led by Eusebius, Bishop of Nicomedia, as well as the emperor, who then forced Athanasius into exile.

Read more at Catholic Exchange 

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