St. Athanasius

It came as a shock as I began to read On the Incarnation by St. Athanasius to see a rich intelligent Christianity coming off the pages. Athanasius wrote On the Incarnation to a friend around 318 A.D., less than two-hundred years after Jesus’ earthly ministry. During Athanasius’ lifetime Christianity went from being an officially persecuted religion to being an officially accepted one when Emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Milan in 313. With that it suddenly became fashionable to be Christian. Unfortunately the Christian teaching that was in vogue came from a man named Arius. Arius taught that there was a time when Jesus did not exist, that he was a later creation of the Father. In more formal language Arius denied that the Son was co-equal and co-eternal with God. The most vocal opponent of this heresy was Athanasius, which brought him in direct conflict with many of the powerful political elite and church leaders who were connected with them. As a result he was exiled five times during his life. For this he received the title Athanasius contra mundum, which means “Athanasius against the world.” What I find interesting is that we no longer remember the names of those power political elites and church leaders, with the exception of Arius. Athanasius is the one we remember and the same truth he proclaimed is the same we proclaim to day. G.K. Chesterton has a wonderful sentence in his book Orthodoxy about the ability of Orthodoxy Christianity to stand the test of time while attempts to corrupt, modernize, or proclaim Christianity dead fall by the wayside. “But to have avoided them all has been one whirling adventure; and in my vision the heavenly chariot flies thundering through the ages, the dull heresies sprawling and prostrate, the wild truth reeling but erect.” Such is the effect of a life like Athanasius’s.

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