Today is the Feast of St. Athanasius…
St. Athanasius of Alexandria (c. 296–298 – 2 May 373), also called Athanasius the Great, Athanasius the Confessor or, primarily in the Coptic Orthodox Church, Athanasius the Apostolic, was the twentieth bishop of Alexandria (as Athanasius I). His episcopate lasted 45 years (c. 8 June 328 – 2 May 373), of which over 17 were spent in five exiles ordered by four different Roman emperors. He is considered to be a renowned Christian theologian, a Church Father, the chief defender of Trinitarianism against Arianism, and a noted Egyptian leader of the fourth century.
He is remembered for his role in the conflict with Arius and Arianism. In 325, at the age of 27, Athanasius had a leading role against the Arians in the First Council of Nicaea. At the time, he was a deacon and personal secretary of the 19th Bishop of Alexandria, Alexander. Nicaea was convoked by Constantine I in May–August 325 to address the Arian position that the Son of God, Jesus of Nazareth, is of a distinct substance from the Father.
In June 328, at the age of 30, three years after Nicæa and upon the repose of Bishop Alexander, he became archbishop of Alexandria. He continued to lead the conflict against the Arians for the rest of his life and was engaged in theological and political struggles against the Emperors Constantine the Great and Constantius II and powerful and influential Arian churchmen, led by Eusebius of Nicomedia and others. He was known as “Athanasius Contra Mundum”. Within a few years of his departure, St. Gregory of Nazianzus called him the “Pillar of the Church”. His writings were well regarded by all Church fathers who followed, in both the West and the East. His writings show a rich devotion to the Word-become-man, great pastoral concern, and profound interest in monasticism.
Athanasius is counted as one of the four great Eastern Doctors of the Church in the Roman Catholic Church and in Eastern Orthodoxy, he is labeled the “Father of Orthodoxy”. He is also celebrated by many Protestants, who label him “Father of The Canon”.
On the Incarnation of the Word is a classic work of Orthodox theology written by noted bishop of Alexandria, St. Athanasius. In this apologetic treatise, St. Athanasius defends the incarnation of Christ against the derision of 4th century non-believers. St Athanasius explains why God chose to approach his fallen people in human form. He states, “The death of all was consummated in the Lord’s body; yet, because the Word was in it, death and corruption were in the same act utterly abolished.” St. Athanasius resolves the paradox of the Incarnate by relying heavily on both Scripture and the teachings of the early Church. St. Athanasius also answers several objections to his account, many of which are still raised against Christians today by those outside the Church. On the Incarnation of the Word was highly recommended by modern writer and Christian apologist, C.S. Lewis, who suggested that contemporary Christian audiences could benefit from reading more ancient classics. Indeed, though St. Athanasius wrote this text in the 4th century, his style is easy to follow and his concepts are of irreplaceable worth. (CCEL.org)
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C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com